No Reason to Wait

It will be months until Mazuz decides whether to indict Avigdor Lieberman; in the meantime it is not appropriate for the foreign affairs portfolio and the Israeli diplomatic corps to remain in his hands.

The police's National Fraud Squad completed its investigation of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday with a recommendation to try him on a long list of serious charges: bribery, money laundering, aggravated fraud, obstruction of justice and tampering with a witness. To turn the recommendation into an indictment requires a decision by the state prosecutor, the attorney general's approval and a hearing for Lieberman, if he wishes. It is not at all clear if he wants a hearing - which though it may give the potential defendant the chance to convince the attorney general to close the case, also reveals the defense's plans to the prosecution.

In recent years, the heads of the police investigations and intelligence branches have shown caution in cases involving public figures, a noteworthy trend. Investigators are very cautious in their recommendations and rarely stick their necks out. The evidence accumulated usually matches the opinion of the state prosecutor and attorney general.

Every case is different, but the minute Lieberman shifted from being a suspect under investigation to someone with a serious indictment hanging over his head, it became unreasonable for him to continue serving as Israel's foreign minister, or as one of the six ministers who make decisions on foreign and security issues.

Lieberman announced yesterday that he would resign as foreign minister (as required) and then from the Knesset and the leadership of his party Yisrael Beiteinu (which is not required) if Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decided to indict him. But it will be months until he makes a decision; in the meantime it is not appropriate for the foreign affairs portfolio and the Israeli diplomatic corps to remain in his hands.

Foreign statesmen and ministers, as well as others who meet with Lieberman, will act under the assumption that his days in the Foreign Ministry are numbered and his political influence is waning, while all media reports on his diplomatic contacts will mention the police's recommendation.

It will be almost as embarrassing for the representative of Yisrael Beiteinu Lieberman appoints to watch over the Foreign Ministry on his behalf.

His replacement will have no independent diplomatic or political status. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must consider rearranging his cabinet or holding on to the foreign affairs portfolio himself.

Israel, which is on the defensive on the world stage and faces the possibility of renewed peace negotiations with the Palestinians, needs a foreign minister with international stature and political backing, not a potential defendant.