From Israel Insider
During their meeting last week in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to replace Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman with Tzipi Livni, dovish chairman of the Kadima party, who held the top diplomatic post under disgraced former PM Ehud Olmert." With her and [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak you can make history," Sarkozy told Netanyahu, according to a Monday night report on Israel TV's Channel 2 News. "I have always accepted Israeli foreign ministers, and I loved having Tzipi Livni here at the Elysee [Palace], but with [Lieberman] I can't."
The French leader reportedly made a dismissive hand gesture when mentioning the Israeli Foreign Minister. The Prime Minister's Office refused to confirm the Channel 2 report, according to which Sarkozy had told Netanyahu in Paris last week, "You need to get rid of this man...You need to remove him from this position." Livni, he reportedly said, made a strategic mistake in refusing to join Netanyahu's cabinet. But, in addition to Netanyahu, three Israeli officials reportedly heard the undiplomatic statements by Sarkozy.
Netanyahu tried to mollify the French leader by saying that Lieberman's public persona is different than the impression one gets of him in private conversation. Sarkozy responded by saying that far-right, anti-Semitic French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front is also "pleasant" in private conversations."You can't compare the two men," Netanyahu said. "Lieberman is not Le Pen." The French leader then denied he was trying to compare them at all.
This week, the Prime Minister's Office refused to comment on Netanyahu's talks with Sarkozy, adding that Foreign Minister Lieberman has Netanyahu's full support. But Netanyahu's problems may be getting worse. An inquiry by Ynet, internet site of the leading Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, reveals the the Prime Minister's office instructed all participants in the meeting with French president not to inform anyone of its content. Even Lieberman was unaware of demand to replace him. The Israeli ambassador to France Danny Shek, who took part in the meeting, did not inform his boss of the criticism. Two other senior officials who were present at the meeting and did not disclose its content were Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Environment Protection Minister Gilad Erdan. Nor did National Security Advisor Uzi Arad.
Conversations held Tuesday morning revealed that the foreign minister was unhappy with Netanyahu's conduct. "We don't refer to conversations with world leaders, as well as routine talks held on a permanent basis between the prime minister and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman," spokesman Nir Hefetz told Ynet. "All we can say is that the prime minister has a lot of appreciation for Minister Lieberman." Lieberman is choosing to ignore Sarkozy's harsh remarks. "Everything is wonderful," he said to those who asked him about the affair on Tuesday morning. " It's not interesting, apart from the fact that I am now included among world leaders like (US President) Barack Obama, Angela Merkel of Germany and the Spanish prime minister, all of whom have been the focus of Sarkozy's remarks."
Lieberman's public relations advisor, Tzahi Moshe, commented Monday that, if true, Sarkozy's comments represent a "serious and intolerable... intervention of the president of a respected democratic country in the affairs of another democratic country." President Sarkozy prefers diplomatic affairs with women to men in the Cabinet, and undiplomatic ones in the boudoir. He had an affair with the wife of one of his present Cabinet members about four years ago, when he was serving as Interior Minister, according to the former head of French police intelligence. The alleged episode was one of a multitude of damaging secrets reported yesterday from the private notebooks of Yves Bertrand, who was central director of the powerful Renseignements Généraux (RG) spy agency for 12 years until 2004.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement Monday night saying: "We expect every political institution in Israel to condemn this blatant intervention of a foreign country in our private affairs, no matter what its political stance." Minister of National Infrastructure Uzi Landau, a leader in Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party, reacted to the Channel 2 report on Tuesday morning in an interview on IDF Radio." It's difficult for me to believe that a leader of a friendly country could make such remarks," Landau said, "but were I the Prime Minister, and such comments were made in my presence, I would bang on the table and object. That's how a prime minister should conduct himself to defend his country's honor."
In May of this year, Foreign Minister Lieberman made his first diplomatic tour of Europe. He visited Paris and met with the Secretary General of the Presidency, Claude Guéant, but not with Sarkozy.Media in Israel speculated that the leak of Sarkozy's remarks must have come from supporters of Netanyahu or Livni, in a broad "hint" for Lieberman to step aside. The Prime Minister has expressed a willingness to invite Livni into his cabinet and invite her to once again serve as Foreign Minister, which would necessitate removal of the head of Israel Beitenu, at least from the Ministry.
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