Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman will resign from his positions as
foreign minister and deputy prime minister on Sunday, he announced Friday, hours
after Meretz filed a petition asking the High Court of Justice to order his
resignation, due to the pending indictment against him for fraud and breach of
The foreign minister confirmed on Saturday night that he
had not resigned from the Knesset or as chairman of Yisrael Beytenu, and was
still running in the election with the hope of getting a top ministerial
position in the next government, assuming Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
forms the next coalition.
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. Liberman has
denied all wrongdoing and called for expedited legal proceedings.
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
“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,” he
said, in the hope the legal proceedings against him are concluded before the
January 22 election.
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
A source close to Liberman expressed optimism that a plea
bargain could be reached before the election. The source said the State
Attorney’s Office and Liberman both believed this was possible.
worst-case scenario for Liberman, if a plea bargain is not reached by the time
the next government is formed in February or March, the High Court or
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein could rule that Liberman cannot become a
minister. He could also be suspended from the Knesset, pending the conclusion of
the legal proceedings.
The prime minister spoke with Liberman on Friday
afternoon ahead of his 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 government.
A source in the Prime
Minister’s Office said Netanyahu would retain the title of foreign minister
until the next government is formed, dispelling rumors that a Likud minister
such as Vice Premier Silvan Shalom or Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor would be
given the post.
According to Israeli constitutional processes, when a
minister resigns, his deputy automatically resigns with him.
and Liberman both want Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to remain in his
post, so Netanyahu is expected to ask the Knesset to approve Ayalon’s
Liberman’s decision follows Weinstein’s surprise
announcement on Thursday that he will charge the foreign minister not only with
breach of trust, but also with fraud, in a 2008 case involving obstruction of
justice by former ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben- Aryeh.
It was widely
predicted that Liberman would be charged with breach of trust for allegedly not
revealing that Ben- Aryeh leaked information to him regarding a separate
investigation against him when he visited the ambassador in Belarus in 2008. But
the charge that by allegedly helping Ben-Aryeh advance to two additional
positions in the Foreign Ministry as “payment” for Ben-Aryeh’s leaking
classified information to Liberman, he had committed fraud, came as a
At the same time, Weinstein decided to close the “main” case
against Liberman, regarding wider and more serious allegations of
money-laundering millions of dollars, fraud and other allegations from 2001 to
Weinstein took the first step in the indictment process on Thursday
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. But Liberman’s announcement that he was waiving his immunity preempted
Rivlin and the Knesset taking action, which could have been put off by up to 30
Reacting to Liberman’s resignation, a Meretz spokesman said the
party would withdraw the petition once he actually handed in his resignation or
upon a decision by the court, whichever came first.
Leaders from the
Center-Left praised Liberman’s decision to resign.
Labor Party chairwoman
Shelly Yacimovich welcomed Liberman’s move, saying the indictment had “severely
undermined the rule of law and the public’s trust in its elected leadership and democracy.” She said that “he who is indicted cannot serve even one day as a
The Labor leader said she would not sit in a government
in which anyone under indictment served, and called on the heads of all
political parties to boycott any such cabinet.
The No. 2 candidate on The
Tzipi Livni Party’s electoral list, Amram Mitzna, called Weinstein’s ruling the
most severe condemnation of an Israeli public figure ever. He urged the public
to read it to understand who the No. 2 man in the Likud Beytenu joint list
“The public should ask itself if it wants a government with
Liberman after this lethal indictment,” Mitzna said. “Public figures who want to
lead must be clean beyond all doubt. If he remains a Knesset candidate, I hope
it makes Likud Beytenu supporters rethink their votes.”
Ben Hartman and Reuters contributed to this story. •