Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to temporarily take over as caretaker foreign minister, and European leaders are likely to breathe a sigh of relief, following Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman's announcement on Friday that he will resign from the cabinet.

While Netanyahu could theoretically either appoint a new minister or pass the responsibility for this portfolio onto another minister, he is expected to hold on to it himself for what is likely to be a threemonth period until a new government is formed.

Netanyahu, according to all polls, is expected to form the next government and pick the next foreign minister following the January 22 election.

If indeed Netanyahu serves as caretaker foreign minister, this would be his third stint in that position. He served as foreign minister for some 10 months in 1998 during his first term as prime minister, and served for some four months under Ariel Sharon in 2002- 2003.

In addition to Netanyahu, Moshe Sharett, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon all held the foreign ministerial portfolio for various periods while they led the government.

While Liberman has a deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, it is established practice that when a minister leaves office, his deputy goes with him as well. Earlier this month, Liberman unceremoniously left Ayalon off Yisrael Beytenu’s Knesset candidates list that will run together with the Likud in the upcoming elections.

While day-to-day running of the Foreign Ministry is in the hands of veteran diplomat Rafi Barak, who is its director-general, all decisions of a political nature need to be taken to the ministerial level.

Liberman’s resignation means he will also no longer be a member of Netanyahu’s informal nine-member ministerial advisory committee, nor the 14-member security cabinet. These two bodies could play a key role in the coming months if major security-diplomatic decisions, such as action regarding Iran or further responses to the Palestinians’ recent UN statehood bid, need to be made.

European leaders, meanwhile, registered their displeasure with the Foreign Ministry in recent days about Liberman’s harsh comments regarding the EU and comparisons he made between the present and the way European governments reacted toward the Jews ahead of World War II.

Liberman’s departure may temporarily lessen Israel-EU tensions that surfaced when most EU states voted for the Palestinians at the UN General Assembly on November 29, intensified following Israel’s announcement in response of new settlement construction plans and the intention of planning to build homes in E1, and got worse last week with Liberman's rhetorical broadsides against the Europeans.

One immediate result of the resignation was the cancellation of a visit by Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi who was scheduled to arrive on Sunday and hold talks with Liberman.

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