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Analysis: Netanyahu under pressure from all sides

By Izzy Lemberg, CNN
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Fourth Of July ceremony at the the U.S. ambassador's residence on July 1, 2010, in the coastal town Hertzeliya, Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Fourth Of July ceremony at the the U.S. ambassador's residence on July 1, 2010, in the coastal town Hertzeliya, Israel.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Benjamin Netanyahu under pressure from U.S. to improve relationship with Turkey
  • Israeli-Turkish relationship strained since Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza
  • Apology issued to Turkey after diplomatic protocol not followed by Israeli FM Avigdor Lieberman
  • Netanyahu also under pressure from his junior coalition partner, the left-of-center Labor Party

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The Israeli media was buzzing Thursday over reports that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was kept out of the loop of a secret meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Israeli Minister of Industry and Trade Benjamin Ben-Eliezer of the Labor Party.

It's not clear who initiated the meeting but apparently both countries are under pressure from the Obama administration to restore their battered relationship. It is likely the Turks did not want the meeting to be with the controversial Israeli foreign minister, given the rising tensions between the two nations in recent months, topped by undiplomatic statements and actions by Lieberman and his deputy Danny Ayalon.

Earlier this year, Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon summoned the Turkish Ambassador to Israel and humiliated him by making him sit on a lower chair, not offering him refreshments and not allowing the delegation to display a Turkish flag, as is the protocol at these meetings.

The meeting was called to express Israel's displeasure over a Turkish feature film that depicted fictional Israel soldiers committing gruesome war crimes. The deputy foreign minister was then forced by the prime minister's office to issue a formal apology to Turkey, but it further corroded an already crumbling Israeli-Turkish relationship since Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza in 2008-2009.

Video: Secret meeting in Middle East
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The secret meeting is also straining the relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lieberman. The two men had once been close, Lieberman serving as chief of the prime minister's office during Netanyahu's first term in 1996-99. Later, Lieberman formed his own party, which was even more to the right of Netanyahu's Likud party.

Lieberman's party has been increasing its strength in Israel's parliament; after the last election, it's become the third largest party there. Lieberman was therefore able to dictate the terms for joining the coalition, forcing Netanyahu to give him the coveted post of foreign minister.

Lieberman has been advocating a tough line towards Turkey, reportedly urging the government not to, in his words, grovel to them. This would explain why the Turks preferred to meet with someone other than Lieberman. Israeli media have also been cataloging the pressures that Netanyahu is under.

The prime minister is set to travel to Washington next week to try to restore another troubled relationship, the one with its closest ally, the United States. The Americans wanted the Turkish-Israeli meeting, and he wanted to please the Obama administration.

Netanyahu is also under pressure from his junior coalition partner, the left-of-center Labor Party.

Although their parliamentary numbers have dwindled considerably since the last election, Netanyahu needs Labor to keep his legitimacy with the Israeli mainstream public and with the international community. Otherwise he would be left with only right wing and religious party coalition partners. The Labor party has also been making noises about the need for a more conciliatory approach to governing.

Analysts here say that Netanyahu has been susceptible to the various pressures, which is why he approved the secret meeting.