Avigdor Lieberman is nobody’s pawn. After getting pummeled in the U.S. for his provocative campaign statements against Israel’s Arab community, Israel’s new foreign minister is showing he can both rile and soothe. After Switzerland hosted both Durban II and Iran’s Holocaust-denying president, Lieberman recalled Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland. In his first major interview since taking office he spoke — to a Russian newspaper — of the important role Russia could play in the Middle East, and emphasized the danger not just from Iran but from the already-nuclear Pakistan. And yesterday, he mended fences with Egypt, after telling their leader Hosni Mubarak a few months ago to “Go to Hell” for his failure to visit Israel.
Lieberman is not just an ideologue but a shrewd political player, and together with Netanyahu, Israel is taking a foreign-policy stance that is overtly independent of the Obama Administration. This may make things trickier for the State Department in the short run, but down the road it will make it much easier for the Israeli government to strike deals, make concessions, or, alternatively, serve Israel’s interests by refusing to make concessions. Israeli voters do not want to feel disenfranchised by American pressure.
One final point on Israel’s independence, and that’s in economics. Today Netanyahu unveiled his economic recovery program, and it is drastically different from Obama’s. Bucking the trend of increasing taxes and government spending, the Netanyahu plan, dubbed “Containment and Momentum,” focuses mostly on cutting taxes to spur growth. Although Israel hasn’t suffered nearly as much as most Western countries during the downturn, the Netanyahu plan is likely to offer an important control case against America’s stimulus experiment.