The other day I was blogging about Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer, Israeli trade minister, crusty old general and Labor Party senior statesman, who told Yediot Ahronot last weekend that the world is getting tired of Israel and its “explanations” for failing to conclude a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and that time is running out on Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu to take the plunge. Fuad would like to see Bibi get rid of his embarrassing foreign minister, Avigdor “Yvet” (his Russian birth name. which his friends still use) Lieberman, and bring Tzipi Livni into the coalition so they can talk peace with Mahmoud “Abu Mazen” Abbas. Fuad would rather Israel negotiated with Fatah strongman Marwan Barghouti, a dedicated two-stater who could make a deal and make it stick, but he’s still in prison. Fuad figures, to paraphrase Crosby, Stills and Nash, that if you can’t talk to the negotiating partner you want, you negotiate with the partner you’re talking to.
Well, Fuad is back in the news again this week, big time. It seems he met secretly today in Switzerland with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to explore ways of patching up relations between the two onetime allies. Now Yvet Lieberman is hopping mad at Bibi for cutting him out of the loop and sending Fuad to sneak behind his back.
Lieberman’s office, according to Ynetnews.com, issued a statement saying that he
“considers it a serious matter that the meeting took place without the Foreign Ministry being informed. It is a violation of all normal procedures. It undermines the trust between the foreign minister and the prime minister. The foreign minister intends to clarify the incident.”
It’s hard to see what he needs to clarify. Trust? Yvet is a loose cannon and everybody knows it. As the Forward’s Nathan Guttman writes, his reputation and performance are so toxic that Bibi has to work around him and use Defense Minister Ehud Barak as his de facto foreign minister in Israeli-American contacts. As for Israeli-Turkish contacts, Yvet is hardly the go-to guy; he and his deputy Danny Ayalon played an impressive role in helping drive Israeli-Turkish relations down to their current nadir in the first place, notably in Ayalon’s goofy-couch stunt in January.
And just this week Yvet managed to shoot off his mouth and embarrass his prime minister yet again.
He announced that there was no chance of Palestinian statehood in the next two years — this while standing next to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, whose cooperation is needed in Israel’s stop-Iran effort, and with American mediator George Mitchell en route to Israel in his continuing effort to achieve Palestinian statehood on precisely that schedule.
Fuad’s secret meeting is part of a quiet, continuing effort, with Bibi’s apparent backing, to calm the waters between Israel and Turkey. Two weeks ago Fuad publicly called on Israelis to end various impromptu boycotts of Turkish goods. And earlier this week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Charlie Rose that Turkey remains “a friend to Israel” — though he tagged the Netanyahu government as a “barrier to peace.”
It’s worth noting, again per Nathan Guttman, that some influential American Jewish organizations are following Yvet’s lead on Turkey. They’re giving its envoys a cold shoulder and flooding the internets with bad stuff about Turkey, including sophomoric nastiness as well as criticism of behavior that they used to be the first to defend. This could be a case of American Jewish freelancing, using a sledge hammer while Israel approaches it with a scalpel. Or it could be that Bibi is using them as his own sledge hammer, getting them all worked up against those mean Turks as a little show of force while he quietly negotiates.
It’s not inconceivable that Bibi deliberately left Yvet out of the loop on Fuad’s Turkish powwow with an eye toward forcing him to quit the coalition so that he can bring in Tzipi Livni and get serious about the Palestinian talks before it’s too late. Besides his undiplomatic behavior as Israel’s chief diplomat, Yvet is under police investigation on suspicion of bribery, fraud, breach of trust and money laundering, including taking 10 million shekels from foreign businessmen and channeling it through shell companies and phony bank accounts. Israel’s attorney general announced today that he has received new material that might speed up his decision on whether or not to indict. That’s not good news for Yvet.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).