Getting Avigdor Lieberman out of the equation

03Aug09

Lieberman-1If you’ve flipped through your news channels, you must have crossed the news on “charges of fraud” against Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman.

The following is a article by the New York Times of a conversation between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

Netanyahu defended his ultranationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on Tuesday after reports emerged that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France had urged that he be replaced with the leader of the centrist opposition, Tzipi Livni.

Mr. Sarkozy made the statement in a private meeting last week at the Élysée Palace attended by Mr. Netanyahu and a number of aides to both men, comparing Mr. Lieberman to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far-right anti-immigrant French politician. Several participants at the meeting confirmed the reported statements.

Mr. Lieberman’s spokesman said that Mr. Sarkozy’s comment amounted to grave and insufferable meddling in the affairs of another democracy. Israeli radio broadcasts were filled with discussion of the episode, with right-wing members of Parliament assailing France and expressing indignation, while some on the left said that Mr. Sarkozy was correct.

Yossi Beilin, a former leftist member of Parliament and minister, said on Israel Radio that he had often heard from others what Mr. Sarkozy said: “I can tell you a secret. I meet world leaders. There is hardly a conversation in which the subject does not come up. Someone will say, ‘Tell me, what’s this delusional appointment?’ There’s hardly a world leader who does not say this.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying he had full confidence in his foreign minister, adding that Mr. Lieberman was “fully committed to peace and security” and was “an important member of the elected government of the democratic State of Israel.”

Mr. Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party and a West Bank settler, was elected on a platform that called for citizenship loyalty oaths at a time of growing discord between Israel’s Jewish majority and Arab minority.

When Mr. Lieberman visited France recently, Mr. Sarkozy declined to meet with him, although he routinely received Ms. Livni, who was foreign minister in the last government.

According to the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Mr. Sarkozy told Mr. Netanyahu that he should remake his government so that he, Ms. Livni and the defense minister, Ehud Barak, could produce historic breakthroughs for Middle East peace.

He was reported to have said, “I’ve always received Israeli foreign ministers. I met with Tzipi Livni in the Élysée Palace, but with that one I simply can’t meet. I’m telling you, you need to get rid of that man. Get him out of the government and bring in Livni. With her and with Barak you can make history.”

The paper said Mr. Netanyahu replied: “No need to exaggerate. Lieberman is a very nice person, and in private conversations he speaks differently.”

Mr. Sarkozy was reported to have replied, “In private conversations, Jean-Marie Le Pen is also a nice person.”

Mr. Sarkozy is said to have added of Mr. Lieberman, “Sometimes when I hear what he says I have the urge to pull out my hair.” He placed his hands on his head and grabbed his hair.

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