Outgoing Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Saturday issued a devastating critique of his outspoken former boss Avigdor Liberman, and of Israeli policy regarding the Palestinians.
Speaking at a cultural event in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon, Ayalon 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 was booted off the Yisrael Beytenu Knesset list by Liberman and is therefore no longer a member of Knesset. He is also 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.”
Turning to never-before declared policy differences on the Palestinian issue, Ayalon said Israel ought to “recognize a sovereign and independent Palestine.”
As he put it, “Israel will grant sovereignty and independence to the Palestinians, and in exchange they will recognize Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people and allow security arrangements. The prime minister must say: ‘I am ready to recognize them but they need to recognize me, and from there we will advance to future arrangements.’” Ayalon said.
Ayalon added, “I want Abu Mazen to say in Arabic, not in Hebrew or English, that he recognizes Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. That will resound through the generations.”
Ayalon also said US President Barack Obama will likely hold a summit with Israeli and Palestinian leaders during his first state visit to the region next month.
Obama, who is expected to land in Israel on March 20, would meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas in Jerusalem, the former Yisrael Beytenu MK said.
“I believe they are already working on a summit meeting between Obama, Netanyahu, and Abbas, and perhaps King Abdullah II of Jordan, who the Americans have an interest in strengthening,” he said. Should Abdullah participate in the talks, he said, they will likely take place in the Jordanian capital of Amman instead of Jerusalem.
He added that the Obama visit was a move to get the president in a leadership position for the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians and “to pave the way for the new Secretary of State John Kerry,” Ayalon said.
Kerry, who has spoken of a determination to make substantive progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track, is due here before Obama. Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday that, “with John [Kerry] at the helm,” the US hope was to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the next four years.
“Should the president’s visit not yield results, it would generate a lot of concerns and criticism,” Ayalon added.
The United Nations General Assembly in November voted overwhelmingly in favor of granting the Palestinians the status of nonmember observer state. Israel, the United States and only six other countries voted against the measure.
Ayalon had praise for Netanyahu as a prime minister who could “stand up to pressure.” He also said he would like to return to politics.
He added that he had apologized for treating Turkey’s ambassador to Israel humiliatingly by seating him on a low sofa at a Foreign Ministry meeting, but that Israel must not apologize to Turkey for the deaths of nine Turkish nationals during the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident in May 2010. Israelis naval commandos, intercepting the vessel which was aiming to break the naval blockade of Gaza, opened fire when they were attacked on deck by violent activists with metal bars and clubs.