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Lieberman's resignation: A small step backwards, a giant leap forward

Israel’s foreign minister will soon be able to put his legal troubles behind him. He will then renew his quest for the premiership from a much more favorable position.

Avigdor Lieberman. Expect to hear more about the “new” pragmatic Lieberman in coming years (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, announced yesterday (Friday) that he will resign from his cabinet position due to the attorney general’s decision to try him for breach of trust. Lieberman will still be the second name on the joint Likud-Yisrael Beitenu list for the elections, due to take place on January 22.

This is a major step in Lieberman’s effort to solve the most troubling aspect of his political career, namely, allegations regarding millions of shekels that were transferred to his proxies early in his career. An unusually long investigation – it took almost 13 years – ended last week with a decision by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to reverse the recommendation of the police and the State Prosecution, and not to charge Lieberman with fraud and money laundering.

Lieberman will only stand trial for a minor issue involving a leak from his investigation. He will probably agree to a quick plea bargain that won’t include any clause preventing him from serving in public office in the future. He could return to the government in a matter of months.

Furthermore, in the short time that is left before the election, it doesn’t seem that the Likud Beitenu party will lose support. If anything, some of the party’s potential voters who didn’t want Lieberman on the ticket due to his secular image might reconsider backing the party. My own guess is that the resignation won’t affect the race at all.

The developments of the last week should be seen in the context of the long game Lieberman has been playing, one which should one day make him the leader of the right – and as a result, Israel’s prime minister. This is the reason Lieberman agreed to unite his Yisrael Beitenu party with Likud, despite the fact that the joint ticket is likely to receive less votes than the sum the two parties would have received had they run separately. Yisrael Beitenu was a niche party, with a secular Russian image. The leader of Likud on the other hand is perceived as the right bloc’s candidate to lead the country.

In order to position himself in first place in the race to succeed Netanyahu, Lieberman needed two things: (a) To end his legal troubles and (b) to broaden his appeal to the center, thus leaving other candidates as the favorites of the far right. The first goal will be reached in a matter of weeks, and the second project has already begun. My guess is that we will be hearing more and more about the “new” pragmatic Lieberman in coming years. If the notorious Ariel Sharon, the godfather of the hard right, could be made acceptable to the center and even the left, so can Lieberman.

Speaking of Sharon, after he was fired from the government following the Sabra and Shatila massacre, journalist Uri Dan, who admired Sharon, wrote that “those who didn’t want him as chief of staff will get Sharon as defense minister, and those who didn’t want him as defense minister will see him as prime minister.” Some Israelis said the same thing about Lieberman yesterday.

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    1. David Ranan

      What a terrible forecast.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Lieberman at the head of the only nuclear state in the Middle-East. Talking about a worst-case scenario. Haven’t we learned anything from the previous WW’s?

      Reply to Comment
    3. The Trespasser

      >Haven’t we learned anything from the previous WW’s?

      I’m not sure what exactly should have been learned from the WWI, but from WWII one important thing was learned indeed – no-one won’t even bother to move a finger should all Jews be burned in furnaces.

      Nice to have you reminding that.

      Reply to Comment
      • oh sorry, I didn’t realize the world is about Jews and Jews only.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          I’ve never claimed that “the world is about Jews and Jews only”

          But that’s what your dirty little antisemitic mind is definitely thinking of.

          Reply to Comment
          • You have a great carreer waiting for you in Israeli politics.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser


            I’ll only note that you haven’t brought any relevant examples from WWI or WWII.

            I suppose that’s because you are not able to produce anything comprehensible other that simple two-three word slogans such as “Lieberman is Hitler” or “Jews never learn”

            Reply to Comment
          • Why would you be interested in the rantings of a “dirty little antisemitic mind”?
            As you are hiding your blatant racism behind some fake holocaust trauma, I’m afraid your true nature is even worse than what we have had the pleasure to read on this blog.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Of course I’m interested. Know you opponent and such.

            Trauma? Hardly. A well-learnt lesson rather.

            p.s. Being accused of racism by a person such as yourself is rather laughable.

            Especially in the light of your claims that the Jewish state represents at least as much danger as the Nazi Germany. Isn’t it what you are implying?

            Reply to Comment
    4. Kolumn9

      The second process of seeing Liberman as pragmatic has already started. I saw an article in Haaretz recently talking about Liberman as being the best chance for peace. I can’t find it right now, but Haaretz! The only issue is that Liberman is now at the mercy of the power politics of the Likud and I don’t know how much support he has there. He would need to bring in tens of thousands of his own people into the Likud to have a chance to overcome the other contenders within the Likud. Additionally, the road from being perceived as being FM-quality to PM-quality is pretty long, but Liberman is young enough for another stint as DM or FM.

      Reply to Comment
    5. “An unusually long investigation – it took almost 13 years – ended last week with a decision by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to reverse the recommendation of the police and the State Prosecution, and not to charge Lieberman with fraud and money laundering.” : Israel has developed an internal elite check through prosecution of politicians (even Rabin’s wife was subject to prosecuter scrutiny). The Attorney General’s decision to override the government civil service effectively vetos that evolved institutional check. This might be seen as further unraveling of what independence the law has in favor of political outcome, especially given your AG’s strong political stance elsewhere.

      Reply to Comment