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Is Peres Acting Foreign Minister?

President Shimon Peres has been filling a vacuum left by partially-shunned Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Newsweek reports.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 8/27/2009, 9:10 AM / Last Update: 8/27/2009, 9:43 AM

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President Shimon Peres has been Israel’s de facto Foreign Minister to a certain extent, instead of the partially-shunned Avigdor Lieberman, according to a Newsweek analysis. Lieberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, won the appointment as Foreign Minister by virtue of his party’s strong showing in the February general election.

However, his uncompromising statements on loyalty to the Jewish State and his frankness in “calling a spade a spade” when referring to Arab countries have resulted him in being hated by the media, feared by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and despised by Arab countries.

Egypt, one of the few Muslim countries with diplomatic ties with Israel, albeit with chilly relations, virtually boycotted Foreign Minister Lieberman shortly after he took office. Cairo remains furious that Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed Lieberman, the same man who previously said that if Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak continues to refuse to visit the Jewish capital, “He can go to hell.”

The only time Mubarak came to Jerusalem was for the funeral of former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.

Enter Shimon Peres, the venerable Labor party veteran who joined Kadima and was deputy Prime Minister – again – under former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Since winning the presidency, a position he has sought for years, he has assumed some of the role as Foreign Minister, in addition to being the first senior Israeli to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama.

Newsweek Jerusalem bureau chief Kevin Peraino wrote Wednesday, “The dean of Israel's left has stepped aggressively into the spotlight this summer... At Davos earlier this year, it was Peres who found himself defending the Jewish State during a contentious debate with Turkey's prime minister, Recep Erdogan.

“And last week it was Peres again who announced that, after meeting with Russia's president, Dmitri Medvedev, the two had discussed the possibility of Russia scrapping its deal to provide Iran with sophisticated S-300 missiles. Where the prime minister or the foreign minister should otherwise be in charge, Peres has appeared to stand for Israel.

However, the president’s actions in the realm of foreign affairs is connected to the man and not the position, which traditionally is ceremonial. Peres, an eternal optimist, is well-respected throughout the world, and Newsweek noted that his image “takes the edge off Netanyahu’s hawkish image.”

One ally of President Peres, preferring to remain unnamed, told the magazine, "It can be stopped at any time that Netanyahu wants it to stop.”

His assumption of power without going through the usual system that would make him accountable creates a problem, Hebrew University professor Gadi Taub told Newsweek. “Imagine the queen of England intervening like this," he declared.