Liberman looking up under Likud sign 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
Those who are interested in the verdict of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor
Liberman’s trial, which will be released next Wednesday, should remember the old
Yogi Berra quote, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” After all, both sides said
they’d appeal if the results don’t go their way, and Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu reportedly agreed to hold the Foreign Ministry until the appeals
Still, the Knesset buzzed with politicians, advisers and
journalists this week, wondering what would happen; some even talked about a
betting pool, March Madness- style, over the results.
Ministry isn’t the only thing on the line.
Liberman currently holds one
of the most prestigious and influential non-ministerial positions – chairman of
the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee – which will have to be filled
if he’s promoted to minister or forced to resign because of the verdict. In
addition, the Likud Beytenu merger is not complete, and movement on that front –
which could continue toward union or separation – was put on hold until after
Liberman’s fate becomes clearer.
All this leaves Yisrael Beytenu in a
state of limbo.
While the party has an ideology, a platform and plenty of
capable ministers and MKs, Liberman’s looming presence, personality and
political style tend to overshadow anyone and anything in his orbit. Perhaps
that’s the reason the party isn’t preparing for the possible day after Liberman
– at least not in any official capacity.
Even the question of whether
Yisrael Beytenu will keep the Foreign Ministry or not remains open. Party
insiders say that the ministry is “theirs” and that Tourism Minister Uzi Landau
or political newcomer Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir would be the likely
candidates for the job. However, many Likud ministers are salivating over the
position, including Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and Home Front
Defense Minister Gilad Erdan, and Netanyahu is thought to be likely to keep the
ministry within his party – his party being Likud, leaving Yisrael Beytenu
There is a theory that Liberman merged his party with Likud to
“take care” of his MKs, ensuring that their political careers survive even if
the courts decide he must leave politics and they’re left without an obvious
However, a source close to Liberman hinted that the two factions
will soon part ways, saying this week, a year after the union, that “the
partnership may have outlived its usefulness.”
“It filled its purpose,”
he explained, “to make sure we have a government led by the right.” He said that
after that goal was met, albeit by a much smaller margin than the 42 seats
Liberman predicted before the January election, the merger has only been hurting
Yisrael Beytenu, which seems to have lost its identity, at least in the public’s
All of the policies that Yisrael Beytenu worked hard to try to pass
in the last Knesset – enlistment for all, civil marriage, electoral reform –
were adopted by Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid, who managed to gain
much more media attention for them.
The only thing separating Yisrael
Beytenu from being known only as a B-list Likud is the party’s outspoken
hawkishness, though even that isn’t always clear cut.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at every possible opportunity, but
his future is uncertain. Plus, the Likud has plenty of its own hawks, like
Deputy Ministers Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely. The party’s ministers
differentiated themselves from the Likud by voting with the Bayit Yehudi on a
bill to prevent future prisoner releases, but they were split in the actual vote
on releasing prisoners this summer.
All this, compounded with the fact
that many Likud MKs and central committee members do not favor an official
merger, point to the wisdom of Yisrael Beytenu trying to make it on its
What remains to be seen is whether that will be with or without its
leader – and we may not know that for a long time. After all, it ain’t over ‘til