Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman hit back at his disenchanted deputy on Saturday evening, accusing Danny Ayalon of a lack of integrity hours after Ayalon had slammed him as undiplomatic and misguided in his policies.
Ayalon claimed earlier Saturday that the international community treated Liberman like a “leper” because of his undiplomatic outbursts, and said Israel was wrong not to offer to recognize Palestinian statehood in return for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland.
Liberman, in response, said Ayalon had spoken of him “in superlatives” until Liberman decided to exclude Ayalon from their Yisrael Beytenu slate for the January 22 elections, ending Ayalon’s Knesset career. Only after that did Ayalon change his tune, culminating in Saturday’s unprecedented critique, said the Yisrael Beytenu leader. Ayalon’s disingenuous outburst, said Liberman, “shows that the decision to leave him off the [Yisrael Beytenu] list was correct.”
Interviewed on Channel 2, Liberman was pressed on whether he behaved, as Ayalon had essentially suggested, “like a bull in a china shop” before stepping down as foreign minister in December to fight a corruption charge. But Liberman defended his strategies and policies, notably on the Palestinian issue — saying it was “impossible” to reach a permanent accord with the Palestinians at the moment.
And he noted that Ayalon had taken a still harder line on the Palestinians in the past. Ayalon had a campaign which asserted “that the Palestinian people don’t exist, that it’s all an invention,” Liberman said.
Ayalon, said the interviewer, “claims you damaged Israel.” Responded Liberman: “Did he say that before or after he was left off the list?”
Liberman said Ayalon had also lost the trust of two previous foreign ministers under whom he served — Silvan Shalom and Tzipi Livni — and that he alienated many diplomats by treating Turkey’s ambassador in a humiliating manner in January 2010. Yet Liberman stood by him, the Yisrael Beytenu head recalled. Ayalon, complaining about a viciously anti-Israel Turkish TV series, seated the ambassador on a low sofa, so that he could literally talk down to him. Ayalon later apologized for the behavior.
Speaking at a cultural event in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon earlier Saturday, Ayalon had departed from his usual diplomatic approach to declare that “the world treated Liberman as a leper.” Why so? Ayalon explained: “It didn’t help that his public statements were undiplomatic — such as that all of Europe was anti-Semitic, and that we ought to force the ouster of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. That didn’t help the way the world looked at him.”
Ayalon said respect for Liberman prevented him from repeating in public what was said about him by some foreign leaders. He said he had felt an obligation to defend Liberman, and to represent Israel’s interests effectively.
Ayalon is set to testify against Liberman in the fraud and breach of trust case that forced Liberman’s resignation as foreign minister in December. He said Saturday he had always been collegial to Liberman, and that he had received no explanation for his ouster, but that the party was owed one. Asked who might be appropriate to succeed Liberman as foreign minister, Ayalon said, “Yair Lapid (the new Yesh Atid leader), and me.”
Comparing US foreign policy to Israel’s under Liberman, Ayalon said effective diplomats “speak softly and carry a big stick. We speak loudly, and carry a baby carrot.”