Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu, opened his speech last night at his party's conference calling out to the sympathetic audience: "Paradise!" Only Lieberman, the iron man of Israeli politics, could utter such a declaration just minutes after he was informed of the decision to indict him, pending a hearing, on a number of serious charges.
For 15 years he has undergone questioning by police. While police commissioners and attorneys general have come and gone, Lieberman has become a senior political figure, a minister and the head of the third largest party in the Knesset. Lieberman is right: If this isn't Paradise, what is?
With a nod or a word, Lieberman can bring down the government and drag the country into early elections.
For now, he does not intend to do so. His speech last night at the Jerusalem International Convention Center was relatively moderate. He said the government is "stable" and that any attempt to upset it from the outside would only strengthen it. (One could hear Netanyahu's sigh of relief from miles away ).
He invited Netanyahu and MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) to sit down with him and prepare the outlines of a final status agreement with the Palestinians that would prevent international recognition of a Palestinian state in September at the United Nations. That is a nice, if surrealistic idea, but it also shows that Lieberman is not about to burn down the barn.
Of course, when it comes to Lieberman, any evaluation comes with a limited warranty. Only he knows what he really intends to do next.
Despite his calming declarations, he continues to collect political roadside bombs that he will detonate if he so desires, at any time. They include bills on matters of state and religion that his party could present to the Knesset at any moment. It also includes the clause in Yisrael Beiteinu's coalition agreement with Likud to "stamp out the Hamas regime in Gaza." If he decides elections suit him, he will use one of these bombshells to end the Netanyahu government.
Speculation says that with regard to the decision to indict him, Lieberman will seek a form of the "Hanegbi scenario." He will try to reach a plea bargain with the prosecution to get off with a fine and with moral turpitude. The latter will require him to quit the Knesset, but he will still be able to run in the next elections. His party will remain in the coalition until he decides otherwise. Then he will take the party out on some pretext or other, and will go to elections with his desk cleared of any criminal matters. Then, it's on to his next goal: leader of Israel's rightist bloc. From there, he believes, the road is paved to the premiership.
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