Here’s a further wrinkle to the Israeli government’s already byzantine coalition politics: While Prime Minister Netanyahu needs Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu to shore up his right flank at home, abroad he needs to project a more moderate image; and so, reports the Forward’s Nathan Guttman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak—leader of the more moderate and venerable Labor Party, and a former prime minister—is Israel’s de facto top diplomat.
When Lieberman traveled stateside earlier this month, he stayed in New York, mostly buttering up the Russian Jewish community (as Allison Hoffman reported). Barak headed to Washington, D.C., and met with top officials.
Washington’s warm embrace of Israel’s defense minister stands in stark contrast to the public display of chill that came out of the White House during Netanyahu’s last two visits, which were both scheduled in the evening, without photo-ops or press availabilities. Then, there is the almost nonexistent contact that administration officials have had with Lieberman, Israel’s actual foreign minister.
But it is not just U.S. difficulties with these two officials that puts Barak in his current role. According to David Makovsky, director of the project on the Middle East peace process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Obama administration is actively attracted to work with Barak in particular, because he is seen as someone who “understands that time is not on Israel’s side” when it comes to negotiations with the Palestinians.