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Indicted Politicians Never Die…Or Even Fade Away

Avigdor Lieberman’s Indictment Could Affect US-Israeli Relations


 After 16 years of investigations, the Israeli state prosecutor indicted Avigdor Lieberman on charges of fraud and breach of trust concerning the appointment of Israel’s ambassador to Latvia in exchange for information about a police investigation against Lieberman.


 Lieberman had already resigned as foreign minister although he remains a Knesset member from the rightist Israel is Our Home party.


The indictment comes just three weeks before Israel’s national elections. Lieberman’s party is running in a joint slate with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. Lieberman originally said he hoped for a speedy trial that would prove his innocence and enable him to be appointed a cabinet minister in the next government. Now that seems unlikely.


The Russian-born Lieberman has been a fixture in Israeli politics for many years. He is known for his blunt statements such as questioning the loyalty of Arab citizens of Israel. Earlier this month, he also compared the European Union’s failure to condemn Hamas to Europe’s failure to end Nazi genocide during WWII. During Lieberman’s tenure, there have also been tensions between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.


“There could be better relations between the US and whoever is going to going to be the next foreign minister,” Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US-Israeli ties told The Media Line. “At the same time he was completely sidelined from US-Israeli relations as Netanyahu preferred to be in sole control of this important relationship.”


Gilboa says much will depend on the makeup of the next government. If Netanyahu forms a coalition with centrist parties such as Tzippi Livni’s Hatnuah, he could give Livni the foreign affairs portfolio.


“Livni is certainly a good possibility and she has already served as foreign minister,” Gilboa said.


Livni, who is seen as a moderate, could help shore up relations between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.


In the short run, the joint list of Likud and Israel is our Home is losing ground. Polls published this weekend showed them at 33 seats in the 120 seat Knesset, which is 12 less than the two parties currently have in the present Knesset. But most Israeli analysts say that cannot be traced directly to Lieberman, but has more to do with mistakes that both parties made.


“The unification between the two parties was a big mistake,” Tamir Sheafer, the head of the department of political communications at Hebrew University told The Media Line. “It is not good for right-wing voters, or for center-right voters. In this case, the whole is smaller than the sum of its parts.”

Sheafer says the current tensions in US-Israeli relations stem more from Israel’s reaction to the Palestinians upgrade at the United Nations to a non-member observer state. In response, Israel announced the building of thousands of new homes on post-’67 land in east Jerusalem and the beginning of construction in an area known as E-1 between east Jerusalem and the Jerusalem suburb of Maaleh Adumim. Israel had reportedly explicitly promised the US that it would not build there.


Lieberman insists he is innocent. “I did not break any laws at all,” he said in a statement. “I want the matter to be addressed in court as quickly as possible.”


He said that according to Israeli law he did not have to resign as foreign minister but chose to do so. He can remain a Knesset member unless he is convicted. If he is convicted of a more serious crime of “moral turpitude” he would be barred from politics for seven years.


But even that is not a death sentence in Israeli politics. In 2000 Aryeh Deri, the head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party was convicted of taking $155,000 in bribes and sentenced to three years in jail. Today, twelve years later, he is poised to return to the Knesset as a Shas Knesset member.


Avigdor Lieberman’s trial could take up to a year. During that time, he will continue to serve in the Knesset and has made it clear he would like the chairmanship of the Knesset foreign relations committee.