In 1997, when the first investigation against Avigdor Liberman was announced,
Bill Clinton began his second term, Princess Diana’s fatal car crash occurred in
Paris and the movie Titanic was released.
Since then, much has changed
around the world. But Liberman is still under investigation.
investigations against Liberman have come and gone and overlapped. Before
his current trial, when Liberman wanted to escape the eye of the Israeli media,
he would take vacations in Belarus, the country that is now the centerpiece of
the case that could ultimately bring him down.
While under the cloud of
investigations, Liberman has risen from relative obscurity as a top aide to
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to one of the most well-known Israelis
internationally. Each investigation seemed to strengthen him politically,
especially among constituencies that believe he has been pursued obsessively and
The state prosecution fed that notion by announcing key
decisions in cases against Liberman at politically sensitive times. During one election, the head of Liberman’s
campaign was arrested.
During another campaign an indictment was
announced during an annual Yisrael Beytenu convention.
No matter what was
happening in his legal cases, whenever Liberman was asked about his state of
mind, he would say that life was heaven, that for him everything was the Garden
How much such replies were intended as a facade to hide his
angst and frustration, no one has ever really revealed. Invoking heaven was
never intended as a religious statement, though if he has been innocent all
along he obviously would have preferred the true justice that only divine
judgment could provide.
If he is found innocent, Liberman could soon
return to his perch in the Foreign Ministry, pending an appeal by the
The outspoken and blunt politician would return to the eye
of the storm on issues like Iran and the Palestinians at an extremely sensitive
time. He could be emboldened by the verdict and threaten Netanyahu’s coalition
ahead of Knesset votes on key issues.
If convicted, even if he appeals,
succession battles will begin in both the Foreign Ministry that was saved for
him when portfolios were distributed and in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and
Defense Committee that he currently heads. Liberman would be replaced in the
Knesset by recently defeated Ramat Gan mayoral candidate Carmel Shama-Hacohen,
but he would still maintain a considerable amount of power via the 10 MKs
elected to the Knesset on his coattails.
Netanyahu will have to decide
whether to wage war on Liberman by giving the Foreign Ministry to a Likud
minister, or appease him by letting the portfolio go to a minister in Yisrael
Beytenu. Either way, Wednesday’s verdict will provide political hot potatoes to
Netanyahu that he would have preferred to avoid.
While other world
leaders have come and gone, Netanyahu was at the top when Liberman’s legal saga
began, and he is there when it is finally set to end. No matter what happens
with Liberman, the political turmoil for the prime minister that will follow the
verdict will be anything but heavenly.
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