Watching Lieberman’s Response

Watching Lieberman’s Response

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The tragic terrorist attack in Tel Aviv on Wednesday once again raised the specter of whether, in the current environment, Israel and the Palestinians can ever move ahead in a peace process. Even more seriously whether the two state solution is any longer a possible consideration. If the hatred expressed through such violence by some Palestinians towards Israelis and the hardline reaction by the Netanyahu Government towards all Palestinians continues, then there is little hope of anything remotely approaching peace talks beginning any time soon.

In addition, this incident presents the new Defense Minister with his first test; something he already has acknowledged. Lieberman actually does have a number choices in this situation as he demonstrates what type of persona he wishes to project in his new position.  It may well be an indication of whether Lieberman is seeking to establish himself as a genuine, legitimate, possible right-wing successor—rather than Bennett—to Bibi; or whether he is merely going to reinforce his long-standing image as a hardline thug.

As the Defense Minister Lieberman must address several constituencies at the same time. First, he needs to show the officers in the IDF that he understands the response choices and options which they undoubtedly will present to him. Lieberman must demonstrate to military that he comprehends the consequences of these options and is able to ask the proper questions and seek the necessary clarifications for them all.

Second, Lieberman must demonstrate to Netanyahu and the entire security cabinet that he can take control and take charge of a situation. He also must recognize the security consequence for any response against the Palestinians within Israel and as seen throughout the world. Lieberman clearly will be observed and tested by the others involved ultimately in any security decision. This is his first test and he must pass it successfully.

Perhaps most telling in the longer scheme of things for Lieberman is whether he can use this moment to emerge from the caricature that he has become in Israel and throughout the world. Lieberman could show political courage. He could balk at any immediate or large scale reprisal against the Palestinians and to quickly rescind the freeze of Palestinian movement into Israel and especially into Jerusalem particularly as this all occurs now during Ramadan. The easy move politically is to be tough and hardline. The politically courageous move would be to use his new position to change his image and demonstrate political skill and imagination; something which very few in Israel believe he possesses. 

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