Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni has her sights set on returning to her former post, and has already sent messengers twice to speak to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s confidants about joining forces in the coalition he is expected to form following the upcoming election, Israel Radio diplomatic analyst Chico Menashe reported on Tuesday.
The report came amid increasing indications that Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman would not be able to be a minister for the foreseeable future due to the ongoing legal investigation against him. Sources in his party said he planned to head the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee following the January 22 election until his legal troubles ended.
Liberman was questioned for 40 minutes in Lod by the National Police Fraud Squad. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was expected to be questioned as early as Wednesday.
The Tzipi Livni Party called Menashe’s report “political spin” and said experience proved Netanyahu preferred his natural partners on the Right. MK Majallie Whbee, who was Livni’s deputy foreign minister, said that if Israelis wanted Livni, they would have to vote for her.
However, Livni herself did not rule out the possibility of cooperating with Netanyahu in a Jerusalem Post interview two weeks ago.
“I didn’t say I would not be there [in Netanyahu’s government],” she said. “I promised the voters one thing: that I would never betray their trust, that I would make my decision based on my and their values and my and their vision for Israel. So never say never.”
In an effort to distance herself from Netanyahu, Livni slammed a speech he made at a Likud rally in Jerusalem on Tuesday night, mocking his statements over the weekend that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were watching the election to see whether he would be strengthened.
“Mashaal watched Netanyahu and saw the man who allowed Hamas to celebrate at our expense in Gaza [after last month’s Operation Pillar of Defense],” Livni said. “Ahmadinejad watched and saw the man who allowed Israel’s international image to deteriorate due to his policies.”
Likud ministers publicly expressed optimism that Liberman would once again be foreign minister and they would not have to cooperate with Livni.
They ruled out the possibility that Netanyahu would trust Livni to negotiate with the Palestinians.
“Livni has gotten desperate because her party has not taken off in the polls,” Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat said. “Of course she wants to be foreign minister, but Netanyahu will not let it happen.”
Netanyahu made statements at the Jerusalem rally that would seem to indicate he was not moving in Livni’s direction.
“We did a lot to strengthen the settlements [in the past four years], and in the next four years we’ll continue to do a lot to strengthen the settlements,” he said at the event.
The report about Liberman chairing the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee first appeared on Israeli Russianlanguage news website Cursor as an excerpt from a Tuesday morning interview with the Yisrael Beytenu chairman.
Yisrael Beytenu’s official response to the report is that Liberman resigned from his post as foreign minister in order to expedite the legal process as much as possible, and is not dealing with his job in the next Knesset. However, a source within the party said it made sense for Liberman to receive a senior position such as Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman.
Liberman’s statements could fuel rumors that he seeks the Defense portfolio. However, Netanyahu said in televised interviews this weekend that he would save the foreign minister position for Liberman.
“Every person has the right to prove his innocence, and Avigdor Liberman also has this opportunity,” Netanyahu said.
“Liberman will finish this process. He did the right thing in resigning, because he wanted to expedite the dealings with this issue so he can return to a senior position.”
When asked if a “senior position” included the Defense portfolio, Netanyahu said Liberman had asked to be foreign minister again.
“The Foreign Ministry is in my hands at the moment, and I hope that he will return to the government quickly,” the prime minister added.