Avigdor Lieberman came to his senses Friday and announced his resignation from the cabinet following the attorney general's decision to indict him for breach of trust. This is as it should be. The deputy prime minister and foreign minister should not be in the cabinet as long as he faces indictment.
But Lieberman's resignation does not seem to reflect what a public figure should understand from it, but rather a tactical race against the clock. Lieberman does not want any more delays. Now is best for him to bring the affair to a swift conclusion. He is seeking a quick and easy plea bargain that would let him off with almost nothing and would bring him back into the cabinet within a few months, where he will choose whatever portfolio he desires - defense, foreign affairs or finance.
Such an arrangement must not be accepted. The prosecution is on the ropes in a boxing match with senior indicted officials. The partial acquittal of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has injured the prosecution and lowered its spirits, although it has petitioned the Supreme Court in that matter. It has also been hurt by the surprising turn in the fraud and money laundering case against Lieberman, which it decided to close after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein backtracked from his previous position. In this gloomy atmosphere, the state prosecutor might make do with a partial achievement, but a surefire one - a plea bargain. The essence of such a bargain would be a confession, and the prosecution's acquiescence to a lenient sentence.
More than two thirds of the criminal cases in Israel - in certain fields nine out of ten cases - end with plea bargains. Some support this common disposition of cases; however, retired Supreme Court Justice Meir Shamgar and other respected jurists fear the appearance of inequity in the way different suspects are treated, and of bias toward high-status suspects. The political timetable must not influence the prosecution's position on a plea bargain.
Lieberman is not worried about a conviction but the severity and type of moral turpitude that might be attached to it. The main case against Lieberman has been stored away in Weinstein's safe under the heading "Let the public read and decide." The remaining case against Lieberman should be heard in court, not disposed of in a deal between the defense and the weak prosecution, whose approach is also that of defense. Let the judge hear the case and rule.
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