Lieberman to Seek Justice Portfolio for Friedmann

Avigdor Lieberman will demand his Yisrael Beiteinu party be granted authority to choose the justice minister in the incoming government in order to appoint Daniel Friedmann, who currently occupies the position, Haaretz has learned. Senior Likud officials said Lieberman raised the issue in talks with prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Likud leader did not offer immediate opposition.

If Netanyahu is forced to form a narrow right-wing government - as appears likely in light of Kadima chief Tzipi Livni's stated intention of leading the opposition instead of joining a Likud-led coalition - he will have no choice but to accede to Lieberman's demand, even though he is under criminal investigation for alleged financial improprieties.

"It doesn't look good from a public perspective and will raise a lot of criticism, and rightly so," said senior officials. "But Lieberman's bargaining power rises significantly in a narrow coalition, and Netanyahu will have to swallow that."

Officials who spoke with Lieberman recently said the Yisrael Beiteinu chief said, "Friedmann is someone I admire very much, and it's an idea I'm considering."

Reports that Lieberman would seek control over the justice portfolio caused a firestorm within the Labor Party, which in the past has expressed vehement criticism of Friedmann's efforts to limit the power of the Supreme Court, and in October coalition talks with Livni, Labor chair Ehud Barak stated he would demand Friedmann's ouster.

According to Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich, "a black flag is flying over Netanyahu's decision to abandon the justice system to Lieberman. Lieberman, a criminal suspect, will decide who will stand at the head of the ministry responsible for his fate... and which will appoint judges."

Netanyahu "is returning to the dark days when he himself led a campaign against the rule of law. Whoever is concerned about the image of the state, from the right and the left, has to unite against this serious development," she said.

Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog warned that placing the Justice Ministry in Lieberman's hands is "crossing a dangerous red line, and places an indelible stain on the face of the Netanyahu government, and that of Likud."

Lieberman has also expressed interest in the positions of both foreign minister and finance minister, but Netanyahu reportedly prefers to see him in the role of the latter. Following the elections, Netanyahu told Lieberman he had slated him to fill the finance ministry in a potential narrow right-wing government, but Lieberman said he was more interested in being foreign minister.

Lieberman is also expected to demand the Public Security Ministry for his party members, the prime candidates for which are MKs Uzi Landau and Yitzhak Aharonovich. Netanyahu also intends to appoint former political adviser Uzi Arad as chair of the National Security Council.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu said yesterday ahead of his second meeting with Livni for coalition talks that his party's "diplomatic channel would bring real results," in contrast to any results achieved by Kadima.

Netanyahu added he would present his new coalition ahead of the 28-day deadline required by law, which ends March 19.

In party meetings yesterday, Netanyahu said he intends to present Livni with "logical, direct and real" ideas, and "a real proposal," but that he does not intend on expressing support for the principle of "two states for two peoples," as Livni has demanded.

After meeting Netanyahu yesterday, Shas chief Eli Yishai said "relatively large gaps" remain between his party and Likud on policy issues, but that the meeting was held in an "honest, transparent atmosphere, with very real intention of bridging the gaps."