Netanyahu seen as ineffectual, paranoid by longtime former ally
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Interview'The Iranians, when it is said that the Israelis are going to do something, they laugh. They're dismissive of us. Nobody takes us seriously'

Netanyahu seen as ineffectual, paranoid by longtime former ally

In a savage interview, former FM Liberman charges that the prime minister lacks the will to stop Iran, indulges Hamas, appeases extremists, and is obsessed with his own survival

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, February 3, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, February 3, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Avigdor Liberman has worked more closely than any other Israeli politician, and for longer, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Their working relationship, which began in the late 1980s as Netanyahu started his Knesset career, saw Liberman serve as director-general of Likud under opposition leader Netanyahu and of the Prime Minister’s Office under first-term prime minister Netanyahu, hold a series of ministerial posts in subsequent Netanyahu-led governments, and even formally ally their two parties — Likud and Yisrael Beytenu — on a joint slate for the 2013 elections.

After the March 17 elections, however, and despite having recommended to President Reuven Rivlin that Netanyahu again be charged with the task of building a government, Liberman opted to go into the opposition, from where he has been loudly critical of the new coalition’s agenda and the approach of the man — that long-time former political intimate of his — at its helm.

But in an interview with The Times of Israel on Tuesday in his new, small Knesset office (quite a contrast from his recent airy Foreign Ministry berth) Liberman assailed Netanyahu — his policies, his mindset, his approach, his political courage — as rarely, if ever before.

Liberman didn’t reserve all his barbs for the prime minster. He castigated the international community for its immorality in meeting, hand-shaking, dining and doing deals with representatives of an Iranian regime that makes no secret of its aim to annihilate Israel. He berated extremist politicians from the Israeli Arab community. But time and again, he returned to “Bibi”: Bibi, the big-talking politician whose sole goal is political survival. Bibi, the book-writing, speech-making opponent of deals with terrorists who does deals with terrorists. Bibi, the opposition leader vowing to bring an end to Hamas rule in Gaza who as premier is currently enabling Hamas rule, and Hamas rearming, in Gaza. Bibi, the leader obsessively preoccupied with thwarting Iran’s march to the bomb who has no intention of acting to thwart Iran’s march to the bomb.

‘It’s like political paranoia, I think. Nobody wanted to bring him down. Nobody. Not Bennett. Not Tzipi. Not Lapid’

Liberman’s political fortunes are at a low. Having abrogated his alliance with Likud and run separately in the March elections, his Yisrael Beytenu mustered only six seats, compared to the 13 MKs it boasted in the outgoing Knesset. It was harmed in part by Netanyahu’s campaign mantra that if supporters of the “national camp” wanted him reelected prime minister, they had to vote for Likud and not for satellite right-wing parties like Jewish Home, Yachad and, yes, his old colleague Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. So there may well be a good deal of personal affront impacting upon on Liberman’s takedown of the PM.

But viewed through any filter by anybody who cares for the well-being of Israel, Liberman’s evaluation of Israel’s new-old prime minister — the seemingly perennial premier who has already served more time in that office than anyone bar David Ben-Gurion — makes for deeply dismaying reading. “This is a devastating critique,” The Times of Israel noted at one point in the interview, when we were discussing Iran. “You’re saying that the prime minister is not capable of defending the state.” Liberman, the man who knows the essence of Netanyahu better than most anybody else, did not demur.

Our conversation was conducted in a mixture of Hebrew and English. This is the lightly edited transcript.

Then foreign minister Avigdor Liberman arrives for a cabinet meeting, at the PM's office in Jerusalem, on April 19, 2015. (Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/POOL)
Then foreign minister Avigdor Liberman arrives for a cabinet meeting, at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, on April 19, 2015. (Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/POOL)

The Times of Israel: You’ve sat in government for years. Now you’re in opposition. For all the speeches and the meetings, it often seems as though our recent governments haven’t actually done anything — that they react but don’t initiate. Not on Iran, not on Gaza, not in terms of Israel’s international challenges….

Avigdor Liberman: You’re absolutely right. The problem is that we don’t have any vision. No initiative. It’s all the same. When we speak about vision, about initiatives, it’s only “according to the Oslo agreement,” it’s only “what we will give up to the Palestinians.”

It’s the system or the people that’s to blame for the paralysis? You were one of them.

It’s the people. It’s the system. It’s the reason I’m not there. All the time, and especially lately, I tried to get out of this cycle. I presented my ideas for a regional, comprehensive solution. I don’t believe that it’s possible to resolve our dispute with the Palestinians in the bilateral framework — Israel and the Palestinians. I think we need, first of all, the responsible Arab world. Maybe the Palestinians are part of this wider solution. But a standalone — only the solution between us and the Palestinians? It’s nonsense. It doesn’t work. And it’s really unnecessary.

I don’t believe in any bilateral solution between us and the Palestinians. We have our experience after withdrawing from the Gaza Strip. We gave up everything to the very last inch, the ’67 lines, and we see how many problems were created. We didn’t see peace, stability. We saw no desire (from the Palestinians) to move forward for a peaceful solution. It’s the same with the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. And even if we were to divide Jerusalem and withdraw to the very last inch, to the ’67 lines in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem, we would only create more problems. We will never see any stability, prosperity. They will create new problems.

If you think it’s in our interests to create a solution, how do we change their mindset? Or do you think time is on our side?

Today, everything is unclear in the Middle East. First of all, time works against the moderate Arab world. The Arab world has huge troubles. Leave aside our relations with the Palestinians. Look at what we’ve seen on the Saudi border in the last few days — something that was unbelievable a few years ago. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen. It’s in their interest (to work with us). They also must understand that it’s their interest — cooperation with us. It’s clear to them that there’s only one reliable ally: It’s Israel.

Israel's incoming Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold and former Saudi government adviser Anwar Eshki shake hands in Washington DC, June 4, 2015 (Debby Communications Group)
Israel’s incoming Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold and former Saudi government adviser Anwar Eshki shake hands in Washington DC, June 4, 2015 (Debby Communications Group)

We recently saw Dore Gold meeting publicly with Saudi general Anwar Eshki. Is there more — anything actually happening?

It’s possible, and we must move only on this track: a regional, comprehensive solution. I’m ready to pay, if I must pay, with the Palestinian issue: For the regional, comprehensive solution, I will be ready to pay with the Palestinian issue. But not the Palestinian issue alone.

Ready to pay: You mean your ideas of adjusting the border and so on…?

That’s also a complicated issue. It’s borders, but it’s not only on the ground: It’s air space and radio signals, etc. It’s more complicated.

But we should be ready for major compromise, in return for regional peace?

Yeah for regional. Not “peace.” I don’t see peace in our region. It’s very important to emphasize this: a regional comprehensive solution. What we’ve been seeing of late (in the region), every day you have hundreds of people slaughtered, killed. Really disconnected from our problems with the Arabs. It’s between Shiite and Sunni. Tribes. Islamic State. Regimes. Everything. It’s a very complicated situation. In the past, it was very easy to blame Israel for all problems in the Middle East. At least all reasonable people now understand that there is no connection between the crises in Libya, Yemen, and our relations with our neighbors.

You go back so far with Netanyahu, so far, so many years of working together. And now you say, I don’t want to sit in a government with him. I’m in the opposition. And you’ve been very critical of him. Why did it take you so long? And why did you finally reach this conclusion?

I think it’s very clear. I cannot understand why people ask me again and again, what happened, what is the reason you are not in the coalition.

Even before Operation Protective Edge (the Gaza war last summer), all the differences between us started. And they continued through Protective Edge, and after Protective Edge. Either don’t start the operation at all, better not to — but if you start it, then you have to go all the way. It’s already the third operation (against Hamas in Gaza). You can’t send four million people to the bomb shelters every two years, to destroy the routine of life, to close businesses. No normal country would allow itself to be bombarded with missiles every two years. Not the US, not France, not England, not Russia, not China and not Germany. They would not accept a situation in which every two years there’s an operation.

But Bibi, as only Bibi would, stretched it out for 50 days. And I think it was a great achievement by the Foreign Ministry that it got him 50 days of diplomatic credit in which to work, and for the army to have a free hand. But we ended up with an ineffectual fumble.

You know there’s always the straw that breaks the camel’s back. For me, that was the straw.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces he's fired Ministers Lapid and Livni and is calling new elections, in a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 2, 2014. (Photo credit: Emil Salman/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces he’s fired Ministers Lapid and Livni and is calling new elections, in a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 2, 2014. (Photo credit: Emil Salman/POOL)

After Protective Edge, Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset for no reason. He looked at Yair Lapid; he didn’t like my good relations with Yair Lapid. He didn’t like the good relations between me and Tzipi Livni. He always has all kinds of fears. It’s very easy to incite his thoughts.

You’re talking about political paranoia?

It’s like political paranoia, I think. I spoke to Lapid. Nobody wanted to bring him down. Nobody. Not Bennett. Not Tzipi. Not Lapid. You just need to give people a little attention. Invite them in. Sit. Talk. Be a mensch. Make a little effort with your partners.

To cut it short, I spoke with them all, I had lunch with them. And yet Bibi decided to dissolve the Knesset, after a year and 10 months. When he decided to dissolve the Knesset it was obvious to me that he’d struck deals with the Haredim. But I didn’t know the scope of the deals. And so when we went to the president, I recommended Bibi (for the task of prime minister). When we started the negotiations, the closer it got, the more the nature of the deal with the haredim became clear. He gave them everything. simply everything. A week before he signed the deal with United Torah Judaism, when we gave him in writing our principles for the future government, our red lines, they ignored it. They put them aside. They were sure…

That you were in their pocket?

In their pocket. What am I — six mandates? Foreign minister and absorption minister… (They behaved as though our concerns were) all an act.

There were several clauses (in the government platform) that, for us, were completely unreasonable. And when we demanded that there be a specific clause for eradicating Hamas in Gaza, Bibi would not agree. When we demanded the death penalty for terrorists, they said we don’t agree.

Look at what we just saw with the death penalty in Boston. Boston has the death penalty! That’s not Obama. That’s not Texas. That’s Harvard. Kennedy. The capital of world liberalism. If they have the death penalty, it’s clearly possible. Stop the nonsense that we’re a bunch of primitives for demanding it. The wave of terrorism, the brutality, has reached such proportions, that you have to change phase.

I said, Bibi, you can’t just fight and cheat to survive: You have to put it on the table: We will build in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. I don’t want to build in Jabel Mukaber, but I can’t accept that we don’t build in Gilo, Ramot and East Talpiot. Don’t build in Nokdim. I’m an isolated settlement. But not to build in Ma’aleh Adumim, in Alon Shvut?

Avigdor Liberman speaks at a cornerstone laying ceremony for a new synagogue at his home settlement of Nokdim, October 23, 2014. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90
Avigdor Liberman speaks at a cornerstone laying ceremony for a new synagogue at his home settlement of Nokdim, October 23, 2014. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90

That was your line: not to build in the isolated settlements, but yes in the blocs…?

Yes. We also have a document on this. In our party’s principles for the government I included the exchange of letters between Bush and Sharon.

If you were in the government, you would support Bibi if he said “I’m not building in isolated settlements,” including your own?

Including my own. That’s my public position. It’s not a secret position.

With (the late Yisrael Beytenu MK) Dudu Rotem z”l, we passed the Governance Law, providing for 18 ministers and four deputies. The first thing they did: They canceled the limitation on 18 ministers and four deputies.

‘They’re all talking about BDS and ShmeeDS. Nothing will help if we lose Jewish communities’

On the issue of conversions, everything Yisrael Beytenu did, it’s all being canceled. The whole issue of a more equitable sharing of the burden, they’re canceling.

They’re harming the most important sector, the one that keeps this country functioning — those who serve in the army, do reserve duty, work and pay income tax. When you cancel the provision for housing rights for a couple with two breadwinners, that directly hurts this sector. When they cancel the requirement that both spouses have to work in order to have the right to day care, who does that hurt? Those very people who keep this country functioning.

We can’t accept that in all the coalition agreements, in this coalition’s entire platform, aliya [immigration] and absorption isn’t even mentioned. Nobody in the coalition makes any reference to this. We demanded an investment of funds in Jewish education in the Diaspora. They’re all talking about BDS and ShmeeDS. Nothing will help if we lose Jewish communities; there’ll be no anchor. In the US, 90% or 95% of the Jews don’t go to Jewish schools.

So you won’t be joining this government?

Not with these government guidelines. It’s not a question of which ministries. We got everything. In terms of principles, we got absolutely nothing. They thought they could buy us with ministries. We said, sorry, we won’t compromise on this. That’s the story.

There are things that are very hard to accept regarding Bibi. On Gaza, yesterday, at a meeting of our faction, I read a quote from Bibi. This is Bibi on the 3rd of February, 2009 — head of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Ashkelon. He says, “When I stood today at the spot where the rocket fell, there was a mother there. A mother holding a crying baby. She says, ‘Look at this baby. Look at her. She’s two years old. She’s frightened. She’s crying.’ The mother says to me: ‘Do something. Help us.’ So I want to tell that mother, and all the mothers of Israel: You bet that we’ll do something! We’ll do what should have been done long ago. We’ll put an end to the Hamas reign of terror. We’ll restore security for all of you.”

That’s classic Bibi. You see?

‘I visited the Gaza envelope communities. You can look out of the residents’ windows and see with the naked eye how Hamas is building fortifications. Most of the materials they’re smuggling in are coming in from Israel, not from the Sinai. We know this and we agree to it’

But if we had done, if we do, what you demand, how do we get out of Gaza afterwards?

You can’t bring down Hamas if you don’t know who you are transferring control to afterwards. That has to be your starting point: Who will get control of Gaza afterwards. As we saw in Iraq and Libya, it is not enough to bring down Saddam and Gaddafi. If you don’t know to whom you transfer control, better not to start. There are answers where Gaza is concerned, but those are issues for the cabinet. I have a clear answer as regards to whom we transfer control.

You have to elaborate. You can’t constantly criticize — inside the government and now outside — without specifying the alternative.

You have to first understand what is not okay about (our policies) on Gaza. First of all, we’ve lost our deterrence. There is no deterrence. When Bogie Ya’alon and Bibi say Hamas is deterred, they’re not deterred. We’re deterred. We pay them for the quiet. We pay Hamas for the current relative quiet via a silent agreement, under which, under the table, we agree that they are rehabilitating their entire terrorist infrastructure. Hamas is working 24/7 — digging new tunnels, producing new missiles, much more accurate and devastating. I visited the Gaza envelope communities. You can look out of the residents’ windows and see with the naked eye how Hamas is building fortifications. Most of the materials they’re smuggling in are coming in from Israel, not from the Sinai. We know this and we agree to it, and we give our silent agreement to their rehabilitation of their terrorist infrastructure. Every week, they test-fire missiles into the sea.

With Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende, foreign minister Avigdor Liberman visits a boy who was wounded in a rocket attack from Gaza, July 16, 2014. (Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
With Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende, foreign minister Avigdor Liberman visits a boy who was wounded in a rocket attack from Gaza, July 16, 2014. (Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Why? That’s outrageous.

It’s very grave. Hamas is trying to create in the south the reality that Hezbollah has created in the north.

Why are we allowing this to happen?

I’ll tell you exactly when the next operation will be: Next summer.

Again, why are we allowing this to happen?

I cannot understand.

Do you support the reconquest of Gaza?

You don’t need to reconquer Gaza. We have no interest in being there. We need to bring down the Hamas rule, and that doesn’t require reconquering Gaza. I presented my plan to the cabinet. It doesn’t require reconquering Gaza. You have to be ready with exactly who you transfer control to, the next day. And there are those to whom control can be handed.

‘Bibi is only battling to survive. The only thing that interests him is his political survival. He can flipflop, forward and backward’

But not Mahmoud Abbas and the PA?

I don’t want to go into the details.

You mean Egypt?

There are solutions.

And the cabinet’s response?

The problem is that Bibi is only battling to survive. The only thing that interests him is his political survival. He can flipflop, forward and backward. Before the elections he can say “there’ll be no Palestinian state on my watch, and my Bar Ilan speech is irrelevant,” and the day after the elections, he can explain that he was not properly understood. On election day, he can say Arabs are flowing in droves on buses to the polling stations, and afterwards apologize and invite Ayman Odeh to the Prime Minister’s Office, and on and on.

He’d say he has to survive in order to prevent Iran from attaining the bomb?

On Iran too, it’s all talk. It’s all talk. Kalam fadi. Piste meisis. Hakol diburim. Parole parole. Just talk.

Iran has stopped taking us seriously. It’s a case of the dog that barks and barks: A dog that barks doesn’t bite. As I always say, if you want to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.

Israel missed the moment to intervene?

It’s our obligation to prevent Iran from (attaining) nuclear weapons. It’s possible (to achieve this). But for real efforts, real desire to stop Iran, you need a completely other leadership. It’s not enough to give a speech in Washington or to blame the world.

‘If someone is not capable of facing up to Hamas and finishing the story of Hamas, what, is he really capable of facing up to Iran?’

This prime minister will not act to stop Iran?

It’s clear that he doesn’t have any intention to do what we need to do to prevent Iran from (attaining) nuclear capabilities. It’s only, you know, public disputes. Another interview. Another interview.

He’s too scared?

I don’t know. I’m not getting into his personality. It is truly our obligation to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. It can be done. But not the way we’re going.

He won’t do it?

Again, all that I see at this moment, there is no intention to do this.

This is a devastating critique. You’re saying that the prime minister is not capable of defending the state.

I say again (bangs the table), if someone is not capable of facing up to Hamas and finishing the story of Hamas, what, is he really capable of facing up to Iran? Truly, there’s a grave blow to our credibility. A grave blow. The Iranians, when it is said that the Israelis are going to do something, they laugh. They’re dismissive of us. Nobody takes us seriously. A few years ago, when we said we’ll act and we’ll go do something, they took us seriously. Now, after all the talk…

This isn’t the criticism of someone who complains about inaction because he’s no longer in government, and wouldn’t be responsible for the consequences?

My approach hasn’t changed in years. True, today I’m not bound by coalition responsibilities. I’m in opposition, so I can be a lot more clear. But anyone who reads the protocols of cabinet meetings and Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meetings will see…

‘We don’t know how to appreciate those who are with us — like the Druze and the Bedouin and the Christian Arabs who serve in the IDF’

You ran Israel’s diplomacy, and our position internationally is terrible. The BDS movement is getting stronger. You are very undiplomatic. You talked about beheading Arab terrorists, lifting up an ax…

No, no. I know exactly what I said. I told all our enemies, they must understand that we will be very, very tough. And if it’s crucial to behead them, then we will behead them. I was talking about our enemies. I was talking in the context of the Betar anthem. I’m a disciple of Jabotinsky. In the Betar anthem, it says: “With blood and sweat / Shall arise a race / Proud, generous and cruel.” It’s correct to be both generous and cruel. That’s what I was explaining.

Let me say a little more about Israeli Arabs. We can be generous or cruel. That has to be our motto. We don’t know how to appreciate those who are with us — like the Druze and the Bedouin and the Christian Arabs who serve in the IDF. Instead of giving them half the kingdom, we’re unforthcoming. And instead we try to appease the extremists.

For me there’s no difference between Jews, Christians, Muslims. There’s no difference between (ex-MK and alleged spy for Hezbollah) Azmi Bishara and (nuclear spy Mordechai) Vanunu. It’s not a matter of religion. They’re both traitors who should be denounced.

Where Arab Israelis are concerned, the problem is that we send the message that it’s worth being extreme. That there’s no benefit to being moderate.

Those who threw in their lot with us paid a heavy price — whether it was (Egypt’s) Sadat or (Lebanon’s) Gemayal or the South Lebanon Army. It’s the wrong message.

Take (MK) Ayman Odeh and the Joint (Arab) List (he heads). My problem is that when Bibi invites Odeh to his office, he gives them legitimacy. He legitimates those who say they’ll never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Bibi, you say you want that recognition, and you legitimate the opposite.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh at the opening session of the 20th Knesset, March 31, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh at the opening session of the 20th Knesset, March 31, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Remember, the head of Odeh’s election propaganda team, at a Bar-Ilan university discussion before the elections, said that Islamic State is the successor of the Zionist movement — that it learned all its atrocities and evils from the Zionists. When Ayman Odeh was asked to condemn this, he refused. When (another Joint List MK) Hanin Zoabi said the kidnapping and murder of the three teenagers in the Etzion Bloc was not terrorism but legitimate resistance, Ayman Odeh was asked to condemn that, and he refused. That can’t be forgotten. The Joint Arab List refused to sign a surplus votes agreement with Meretz, (because they’re) a Zionist party. We legitimate those who want to destroy us.

Ayman Odeh’s Arabic Facebook posts are no different from Bishara’s. They try to paint him as some kind of household pet. He’s no different from the previous Arab (Hadash) party leader (Mohammed) Barakeh. What’s the difference between Ahmadinejad and Rouhani? Rouhani smiles a lot and he’s a lot smarter. It’s the same with Barakeh and Odeh, or Zoabi and Odeh. Odeh is smarter. He smiles a lot. And he’s more dangerous.

Let me come back to the point about your diplomacy, that you didn’t do enough.

I know what I did and what I didn’t do. I can look at votes that I organized in the IAEA when we defeated, by a large margin, all the initiatives that Egypt brought against us, relating to Israel’s capabilities. Abu Mazen twice tried to get a decision through the UN Security Council on an independent state. He failed twice. We didn’t need an American veto.

Because of the relations that I developed, with countries like Bosnia Herzegovina, Lithuania, Rwanda. All of them. Who gave us the majority? Take the latest IAEA vote. Look at how many voted with us. The Ukraine and Georgia and Moldova. All those countries. They gave us the majority, not Western countries. When we fought Protective Edge, these were the states that really sided with us, that were members of the Security Council — countries like Rwanda and Lithuania and others.

The fact that we were accepted into some of the most prestigious organizations in the world — from CERN to the OECD in my period (as foreign minister). We have no small number of achievements.

The fact is that there are 57 Muslim countries and one Jewish state. Every (country) assesses the benefits for its interests. Clearly, our situation is not simple.

Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz hugging Gilad Shalit on the day of his release from captivity (Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/ Flash 90)
Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz hugging Gilad Shalit on the day of his release from Hamas captivity, October 18, 2101, as Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu look on (Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/ Flash 90)

Look, we are always telling the whole world that you mustn’t compromise with terrorism, that you have to fight terrorism. Look at all the books that Netanyahu has written, about whether the West can beat terrorism. (Liberman refers to books by Netanyahu called “A Place Among the Nations” and “Fighting Terrorism”.) Look at the letter he wrote to (then foreign minister Yitzhak) Shamir about the (1985) Jibril prisoner exchange, when he was ambassador to the UN. I think it’s the single most persuasive document against doing deals with terrorists. And then he himself, in the (2011) Shalit deal, releases all the worst murderers.

And you voted?

Against the deal, of course.

‘If you want to argue with your friends — and it’s not the first time we’ve had differences with the United States — (you shouldn’t do it) on the front page of every newspaper’

Where does all this play in the Obama-Netanyahu relationship? Does Obama see Netanyahu in this disastrous light?

I’m not going to… I always say, rather than blame others, we’ve got to get going ourselves. That’s the difference between me and Bibi. He always blames everybody else.

I agree that this deal they’re doing is dreadful. The deal they’re gearing up to do with Iran is terrible. But it’s not enough only to blame everybody else. What are you doing? How can you ask the whole world to fight terrorism when you do deals with terror — the Shalit deal, and by letting Hamas now rearm and rehabilitate its terrorist infrastructure?

How does that resonate with the Americans?

I don’t know what resonates with them. But I do know that if you want to argue with your friends — and it’s not the first time we’ve had differences with the United States, but it was never like this — (you shouldn’t do it) on the front page of every newspaper and on screen. It doesn’t need to be done publicly. You have forums where you meet. There’s a special telephone line where you can talk and argue. Don’t make it public. Do we have a surplus of friends?

And yet you recommended to the president that he be prime minister. In hindsight, do you regret that?

I don’t regret that. But when I saw what was taking shape… When we recommended him, we knew there was a deal with the Haredim, but we didn’t know what kind of deal. When we saw the deal… After all, Bibi in the last Knesset led the legislation on the Nationality Law. He led it. It was drafted by Ayelet Shaked and Zeev Elkin and Yariv Levin. They led it. They spoke about it at every opportunity. Now, because (UTJ’s Yaakov) Litzman doesn’t agree, he’s withdrawn it. We’ve just resubmitted it in exactly the same form. How can you ask the entire world to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people when you yourself have withdrawn legislation to the same effect because Litzman demanded it?

‘It’s absolutely dreadful that the countries of the world are prepared to maintain diplomatic relations, prepared to reach an agreement with a country whose official policy is to wipe out the state of Israel’

But Netanyahu’s better than Herzog?

I’m not giving out points here. I’m not saying anything. Before the elections, I was asked, why aren’t you pledging in advance to join a Netanyahu coalition? I refused to do so, in contrast to Deri and Bennett. For all those complaints by Bibi about us (not joining the coalition), I said in advance that if they don’t deliver the goods… I made no personal commitment to anyone. My commitment is to the guiding principles, to a platform, to principles. We said, when we see the government’s guiding principles, we’ll be able to say yes or no. In 2009 too, we didn’t pledge to support Netanyahu ahead of time. Tzipi Livni won one seat more than Likud, but we recommended Bibi, because we agreed on the guiding principles. Here, this coalition seems bent on obliterating everything we managed to get done in the last Knesset. And the whole political-security issue, there’s nothing.

As number two in the last government, you’re also responsible for the failure to stop Iran.

No doubt about it. I can’t evade collective responsibility.

Where did you go wrong?

I didn’t manage to convince others in the cabinet, in the army. My approach was very different. I tried to persuade, and to explain. But no doubt. I’m not trying to run away from personal responsibility.

What would you do now on Iran if you were prime minister?

There’s a way to act, and action must be taken. Fewer declarations, less talking, more action.

Is it too late? The Lausanne deal is done. A final deal is imminent.

We have to understand: The Iranians don’t rest for an instant. Their goal is wipe out Israel. They make no secret of it. In the Rouhani era, they repeat it every week. It’s absolutely dreadful that the countries of the world are prepared to maintain diplomatic relations, prepared to reach an agreement with a country whose official policy is to wipe out the state of Israel. It’s terrible from a moral point of view. They know that they are signing an agreement with a country that says openly that its goal is to annihilate the Zionist entity. And the nations of the world meet with them, and laugh with them, and they shake hands and dine together. And they sign agreements with them. There’s no doubt, to my sorrow, that this is a return to the Munich policy (of appeasement).

US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign MinisterMohammad  Javad Zarif in Muscat, Oman on November 9, 2014 (photo credit: AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm/Pool)
US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign MinisterMohammad Javad Zarif in Muscat, Oman on November 9, 2014 (photo credit: AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm/Pool)

And what can Israel do practically, now?

There are things that can be done. It’s possible to do them. But that’s not for the media.

What do you make of the Turkish elections, the blow to Erdogan?

What happened there is significant. You know, there’s always a tendency to personalize everything. But what happened now in Turkey is that the Kurdish Democratic Party won representation for the first time. That changes Turkey, de jure, from a Turkish state to a binational state. That the Kurds won 13%, almost 80 seats, makes Turkey a binational state. Given everything that’s happening with the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, that’s a fascinating development.

They didn’t believe the Kurds would clear the 10% electoral threshold.

How does this impact us, at the same time as Greece has a government less empathetic to us?

We’ve built good things with Greece. This triangle of Greece-Cyprus-Israel. I’ve spoken with the new Greek foreign minister a few times. They were good discussions.

It’ll take Turkey a while to internalize what’s happened there. Erdogan is not known as the silent type, but he’s been pretty quiet since the elections.

How bad is it that we have no foreign minister? A disaster?

It’s a disaster that we don’t have a Foreign Ministry. There’s been a pogrom at the Foreign Ministry. There have been periods without a foreign minister. Periods without a defense minister — from Ben-Gurion to Ehud Barak, who held both posts. Nobody took the Defense Ministry apart. The problem is that they’ve taken the Foreign Ministry apart. Entire areas of responsibility removed and allocated to other ministries.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on Monday July 16 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 16, 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Some of that happened when you were foreign minister.

No. I retained a great deal of authorities. That was partly a consequence of the political weight I had. Today, they’ve simply ripped apart the ministry. A lynch.

For narrow coalition reasons?

It really doesn’t matter why.

You think that you should be the prime minister, and that you will be?

I think that I must do everything that I believe is good for Israel. I never thought that I would be a politician. Then, like every politician, I had my ambitions. We are in very crucial times. I tried to do my best.

I am satisfied with everything that I achieved in Israel. I came in 1978, at 20 years old. A young guy. An immigrant. I came a long way from there to my last position (as foreign minister). I have children, I have grandchildren, I have friends.

I think Israel has the capacity to be the most successful country in the world. More than Switzerland. More than Norway. More than others. We need real change in our political structure, government structure. It’s possible.

To change the system?

To give priority to those who lead this country forward — those who serve in the army, who do their reserve duty, who work, who pay income tax. They’ve never been screwed as they’re being screwed by this government. But it’s not too late.

This government won’t last?

It will collapse by the end of the year.

And you won’t save it?

This government will collapse by the end of this year.

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