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Good Cop, Bad Cop?

Rick Richman has interpreted Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s first official address as promoting a policy of peace through strength.  Frankly, insofar as Lieberman’s domestic supporters and detractors alike don’t typically see the Yisrael Beitenu leader as a man of peace, this seems a bit too generous.

But even if Rick’s analysis is accurate, the more important point is that Lieberman’s deeply controversial reputation precedes him, thereby coloring virtually everyone else’s interpretation of whatever he happens to say.  Indeed, it is hardly surprising that the reactions to Lieberman’s speech — which merely put another nail in the coffin of the long-dead Annapolis “process” — have been almost unanimously negative.  For this reason, Jerusalem faces a serious challenge in its conduct of foreign policy: how can it put a reputedly undiplomatic top diplomat to good use?

Here’s one possibility: perhaps Lieberman’s contrast with Benjamin Netanyahu lends itself to a good-cop/bad-cop dynamic.  After all, Netanyahu — whose first address as prime minister was well received and considered “conciliatory” — is hard at work trying to convince foreign leaders of his own moderation, hoping to reinforce support against Iranian nuclear ambitions.  Insofar as international perceptions of Lieberman will make anything he says — fairly or unfairly — seem “hawkish,” Netanyahu can emerge looking less trigger-happy by comparison.

Of course, making Netanyahu look good is hardly what Lieberman had in mind when he joined the Likud-led government.  But at least the good-cop/bad-cop dynamic gives Lieberman a clear function, as well as a reason to continue espousing his views freely for the benefit of his political base.

Otherwise, history suggests that Lieberman would be cast to the side.  After all, during his previous premiership, Netanyahu similarly appointed two foreign ministers with minimal diplomatic skills and international esteem, thereby ensuring his total domination of Israeli diplomacy.  Indeed, like the non-English speaking David Levy before him, Lieberman is destined to be diplomatically overshadowed despite controlling the Foreign Ministry.  But unlike Levy, at least Lieberman won’t have to be quiet.


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