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Cleared of Corruption Charges, Lieberman Eyes Role of Prime Minister

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Accompanied by his two sons and his political aides, Avigdor Lieberman went to the Western Wall Wednesday morning to thank God who, in his great compassion, saved the former foreign minister from the dread of a conviction. Lieberman's 17 years in moldy interrogation rooms and crowded courthouse corridors have ended in a denouement that can only be described as seventh-heaven-plus.

This is the first day of the rest of his political life, and for Lieberman it couldn't be sweeter. Not only did he emerge the victor, he must have derived pleasure from the loud slap in the face the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court gave the state prosecution and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

Still, emerging from the courthouse, Lieberman wisely didn't gloat over the defeat of the pallid Justice Ministry officials from Saladin Street in Jerusalem. “I don't wish to deal with this issue anymore,” he said in an almost half-whisper. “Many challenges face us.”

Unlike his friend, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who declared after his acquittal that “there were no cash envelopes" (even though there were), the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party made no reference whatsoever to the indictment, nor did he complain that his blood had been shed or his back scarred.

Not only does Lieberman now return to the foreign minister's office, from which he was forced to step down 10 months ago, he returns to his position as the coalition's most responsible adult and skillful politician. Does anyone remember the saga of Lieberman’s embarrassing failure in backing Givatayim accountant Moshe Leon in the recent Jerusalem mayor's race? Maybe only Leon.

So what does the future hold for Lieberman? Judging from what he said Monday at the meeting of the Likud Knesset caucus, he intends to become a mediator committed to crafting compromises and establishing ties among the coalition partners despite their contradictory agendas – and especially on issues of religion and state.

The bottom line: Lieberman’s return is wonderful news for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the previous Netanyahu government, Lieberman was the most stable partner in the coalition. There's no reason why Lieberman can't continue in this role over the next four years of Netanyahu's current government. Despite the bad blood stemming from the Leon affair and other issues, their cooperation is expected to be robust once again.

It's often said that Lieberman is a mystery and he can always be expected to do the unexpected. To this day it isn't clear why, in the fall of 2006, following the Second Lebanon War, he joined the Olmert government, which was already on its last legs, or why he left that government a year later.

What's clear to all political players is that Lieberman wants to be prime minister one day. To reach that lofty goal he'll have to act accordingly – that is, in the responsible, cool-headed manner of a leader who sees the whole picture. And he'll have to vie for the Likud leadership when Netanyahu steps down.

The second goal is much more difficult than the first. Over the next few weeks, the feasibility of the second goal will be clarified. Or it will emerge that opposition among Likud's leaders to the Yisrael Beiteinu marriage is so solid that a merger of the two parties is simply not in the cards.

Avigdor Lieberman at the Knesset, June 2013.Credit: Emil Salman