After Acquittal, Cabinet Paves Way for Avigdor Lieberman's Return to Power

Leftist leader decries Avigdor Lieberman as 'worst foreign minister' in Israeli history.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The cabinet approved Sunday Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman’s reinstatement as foreign minister following his acquittal last week on charges of fraud and breach of trust, despite calls from the left to keep him out of the minister’s seat.

Lieberman will be sworn in Monday in the Knesset.

Labor’s Isaac Herzog and Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On called on the cabinet over the weekend not to reinstate Lieberman as foreign minister.

“Lieberman has proved that he is the worst foreign minister in the history of Israel, a person who is not accepted in any Western country,” said MK Isaac Herzog, who heads the Labor Party’s Knesset faction. “I don’t understand why he should be returned” to power.

Speaking of MK Zeev Elkin of Likud, who has been deputy foreign minister in Lieberman’s absence, Herzog called Lieberman and Elkin “the wrong duo in the wrong place,” saying they will isolate Israel and impair the country’s efforts to explain its actions to the rest of the world.

Lieberman served as foreign minister in Netanyahu’s previous term, between March 2009 and December 2012, five weeks before the election for the current government. He left office after he was indicted over allegations that he promoted an ambassador who handed over information about a police investigation, which was being conducted in Belarus, into Lieberman and failed to report the ambassador’s actions.

He was acquitted by unanimous decision of a three-judge panel at the Jerusalem magistrate’s court last week, which ruled the state prosecution did not offer sufficient proof of its charges.

Gal-On, meanwhile, said reinstating the hard-line Lieberman would send the wrong message to the Palestinians.

“Lieberman’s appointment poses a danger to the State of Israel and to its foreign relations, particularly during period of a crisis in talks between Israel and the Palestinians,” she said. “An appointment like this is like putting a bomb in front of the peace talks and signals that Israel is not heading in the direction of a peace agreement.”

Netanyahu has been holding the Foreign Ministry position open for Lieberman, taking on the foreign affairs portfolio himself rather than appointing another foreign minister before the trial ended.

Netanyahu did appoint Elkin as deputy minister, but his term is expected to come to an end Sunday in a cabinet decision. The move would allow the minister to appoint his own deputy, in keeping with common practice.

The Prime Minister’s Office is considering another round of appointments, to fill the deputy foreign minister job and that of chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which Lieberman had held while awaiting the court’s ruling.

Zeev Elkin is considered a contender for both spots, as is the chairman of the Knesset’s House Committee, Tzachi Hanegbi, who is close to Netanyahu. Coalition whip Yariv Levin of Likud and Yesh Atid party whip Ofer Shelah are also looking to head the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Avigdor Lieberman after his acquittal.Credit: Emil Salman

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