Avigdor Liberman on Friday announced he would resign from his position as foreign minister and vice premier in the current government in light of a pending indictment against him for fraud and breach of public trust.
In a statement published by his office, Liberman said his legal counsel advised him he did not have to resign. Nonetheless, he said he would do so in order to fight the charges against him, thereby enabling him to serve in the next government if exonerated.
To this end, Liberman said he would immediately drop his parliamentary immunity "so that after 16 years during which investigations have been carried out against me, I can conclude this matter quickly, without delay and clear my name."
"I am also doing this because I am convinced Israeli citizens have the right to go to the polls with this matter already having been decided," saying he hopes legal proceedings against him are concluded before the January 22 elections.
Liberman added that he hopes he will be able to continue serving Israel "as part of a strong and united leadership in order to face the security, diplomatic and economic challenges that the State of Israel is facing."
The statement indicates he intends to return to a top ministerial position in the next government, assuming the Likud-Beytenu list forms the next coalition.
Liberman's decision follows Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein's announcement on Thursday that he will charge the foreign minister with fraud and breach of the public trust in a 2008 case involving obstruction of justice by former ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh. However, Weinstein decided to close the main case against Liberman.
Weinstein took the first step in the indictment process when he sent the indictment text to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, asking him to remove Liberman's parliamentary immunity so the indictment could be filed in court.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke with
Liberman Friday afternoon ahead of the resignation announcement, telling the foreign minister that he hopes he will "prove his innocence as
quickly as possible" and quickly return to a senior position in the
A source at the Prime Minister's office thereafter said that they had so far received no indication of who would be appointed foreign minister following Lieberman's resignation, adding that according to Israeli constitutional processes, when a minister resigns, their deputy also resigns and the prime minister takes on the portfolio.
The official said that there is thus no vacuum in the position, and that Netanyahu is now the de-facto foreign minister until he decides to appoint someone else to head the ministry.
Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ben Hartman contributed to this report.