While former Israeli Foreign Minister (and perpetual utterer of undiplomatic statements) Avigdor Lieberman awaits the end of his corruption trial so that he may…return to the crucial post of foreign minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is balancing the multiple roles in the government. Right now, Bibi is prime minister, foreign minister, and a repentent traveler as he winged his way to Warsaw this week in an economy class seat after he infamously flew to London for Baroness Margaret Thatcher’s funeral earlier this summer in a $127,000 bed.
Alas, there’s no rest for the weary. Bibi arrived in Warsaw and immediately had to deal with controversy after an unvetted press release went out about the Israeli and Polish joint vision for Middle East peace. What horrible, Lieberman-like things did the document say?
The text denounces attempts to harm the legitimacy of Israel and the security of its citizens, and affirms the right of the Palestinians to their own country — both messages that Netanyahu has endorsed in the past. However, the document also says that “unilateral steps by either side are not helpful for achieving a sustainable peace,” a declaration that could be interpreted as an endorsement of a construction freeze in the settlements.
For real? That’s it? Not exactly, the rest of the statement was pretty moderate with yet more rhetorical flourishes about peace and Palestinian self-determination. Nevertheless, it hatched a few conspiracy theories.
The statement’s surprising wording aroused speculation that it was an attempt to repair the bad impression made by Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon’s statements last week. In an interview with the Times of Israel, Danon said that the Israeli government did not support the two-state solution and that its ministers would do everything possible to thwart any attempt to establish a Palestinian state.
So if the statement was neither a rebuke for one deputy minister’s narrow vision for the future nor an endorsement of a settlement freeze–the most potent of Israeli confidence-building measures–then the statement was…a mistake?
The Prime Minister’s Office explained that low level staff members of the National Security Council had worked on the statement and had obtained Poland’s agreement without Netanyahu or the council’s director, Yaakov Amidror, ever reading it.
From here, the ordeal devolved into a spat between the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which is reportedly angry about its portfolios being allocated to non-diplomats, and the Prime Minister’s office. What about all the goodwill?
Also, can anyone tell me if there’s a lousier diplomatic move than retracting a progressive statement about the peace process? I suppose we’ll just find out when Lieberman returns.
PM’s office sends out unvetted statement on peace process [ToI]
Netanyahu backtracks on joint statement with Poland on Israeli-Palestinian conflict [Haaretz]
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.