In an interview on Russian television, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Gheit said that he would not deal with his new Israeli counterpart, Lieberman, nor would Lieberman be welcome in Egypt"...so long as his positions, which we have seen before, remain as they are." Gheit did, however, say that his government would continue to work with the Israeli Government, only, not with the Foreign Minister.
Gheit was not exactly clear which of Lieberman's positions he was talking about. The new Israeli Foreign Minister has made comments which ought to be of concern to anyone hopeful for peace in the region and to anyone interested in a just Israeli society. For example, there have been comments about rejecting the Annapolis peace process, about the President of Egypt taking a trip "to hell" if he refuses to visit Israel (even though Israeli leaders visit Egypt,) that in the event of a war between Israel and Egypt, that Israel should bomb the Aswan dam and he has suggested that everyone in Israel be required to sign a pledge of loyalty to the state before being allowed to vote.
Gheit was most likely referring to comments vis-a-vis relations with Egypt, bombing the Aswan dam and the rejection of Annapolis. Lieberman may have just been talking tough to appease the constituency that voted for his party. He may also be the spokesman for the Prime Minister, Netanyahu's id, saying what, for diplomatic reasons, the Prime Minister cannot say himself. In either case, Lieberman is doing an excellent job of isolating and alienating himself from his counterparts in a major regional power and the most important Arab state with whom Israel has friendly relations. Friend's do not always need to agree, but when they don't, it's probably best not to hold a grudge and continue to antagonize. Lieberman is supposed to be Israel's top diplomat. It's time for him to start behaving like a diplomat and to recognize how his actions may be damaging to an important strategic relationship.
Another interesting point to make is that the latter scenario presented above: that Lieberman is Netanyahu's attack dog, is not likely a theory accepted by Egypt. In fact, Gheit's language suggests that Egypt is making a clear distinction between the policies of the Israeli government and Lieberman in that they will continue to deal with the former even as they shun the latter. This could have a number of consequences for relations with Israel, but most importantly, it offers Netanyahu, or the Israeli government as a whole, to demonstrate through words or through deeds that Israel will continue forward with its peacemaking efforts and that peace in the region remains the end goal.
Netanyahu has never refuted Lieberman's comments, neither has he publicly censured nor sanctioned them. Similarly, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has not responded to Gheit's latest remarks. Either way, Netanyahu is now walking a diplomatic tightrope--or at least about to start walking. One of his most important regional partners no longer wants to deal with his foreign ministry, he has to appease varying constituencies within his coalition and he needs to demonstrate to the world that Israel remains interested in peace. It's an unenviable position and the "show" on the tightrope will be interesting to watch.
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