Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman resigned on Sunday from his positions as
foreign minister and deputy prime minister, due to the pending indictment
against him for fraud and breach of public trust.
The resignation will
take effect on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
“I am leaving temporarily. I
assume this will be as short as possible,” he said, after what he described as
four fascinating years in the Foreign Ministry.
Regarding media reports,
including those stating he had resigned and was seeking a plea bargain following
consultations with his pollster Arthur Finkelstein, Liberman said, “I really
hope [the legal proceedings] will be fast. I read in the papers what I didn’t do
and what I didn’t say… there’s no intent for a plea bargain, rather to go to
I’m not disqualifying any options, but first to go to court, that
is the right and correct path.”
“Two-hundred percent I didn’t talk with
Finkelstein about resigning and not about the legal proceedings,” he
Upon his announcement of his intent to resign on Friday, media
reports – including from a source close to Liberman who spoke to The Jerusalem
Post – surfaced saying his lawyers claimed they and state attorneys would arrive
at a quick plea bargain that would allow him to jump right into a job as a
minister in the new government.
The Justice Ministry, on the other hand,
made no mention of any discussion regarding a plea bargain. Appearing ready to
move forward with the case, the ministry spokesman noted only that “the
indictment is ready to be filed. To the extent that the defense requests that
the court speed up the case, the State Attorney’s Office will consent to the
Pressed over whether it would be possible to complete the trial
in only a few months – a situation that could, in the best-case scenario for
Liberman, allow him to return to a ministerial position when the new government
is formed – the spokesman refused to commit to any timeline, saying that it
would “depend on the court’s decisions.”
It is difficult, but not
impossible, to move a trial at such breakneck speed. Former prime minister Ehud
Olmert’s first corruption trial, for example, took around four years.
one expects Liberman’s case to take that long, since the facts are simpler,
there are far fewer documents to gather in connection to the case and much of
the background for the case has been effectively proven in the conviction of
former ambassador Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh, who is at the center of the
Still, the prosecution will need to call witnesses from the Foreign
Ministry regarding Ben- Aryeh’s promotions and it is unclear how long that will
take and if the process can be concluded in only a few months.
if there is no plea bargain and no conclusion to the trial before the next
government is formed, Liberman might be able to still become a minister, but
only if both the High Court of Justice and the attorney-general choose not to
Regarding his emotional state and concerns, Liberman said
that he was “not worried personally.”
“I only worry for the voters,” he
stated, referencing what he said were 400,000 people who voted for Yisrael
Beytenu in the last election.
The party leader added that the “cup is
half full, with more time to work on the campaign” and finished with the same
phrase he used hours before it was announced that he would be indicted –
“Everything is the garden of Eden,” meaning that everything is
Likud officials said that they will not hide Liberman in the
campaign and that he will play a central role. They added that they appreciated
his resignation because it enables the election to return to key diplomatic and
security issues rather than focusing on him.
“Liberman is an electorate
asset because of his image as a leader and a doer,” a Likud official said. “Now
that he is not a minister, he will have more time for political rallies to help
the party gain support and get out the vote.”
Liberman announced Friday
that he would be stepping down, hours after Meretz filed a petition asking the
High Court of Justice to order his resignation.
In a statement published
by his office, Liberman said his legal counsel advised him that 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
Liberman has denied all wrongdoing and called for expedited
To that 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,” he said, in the hope that the legal proceedings against
him would be concluded before the January 22 election.
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.”
Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu spoke with Liberman on Friday afternoon ahead of his resignation
announcement, telling the outgoing foreign minister that he hopes he will “prove
his innocence as quickly as possible” and speedily 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.
Israeli constitutional processes, when a minister resigns, his deputy
automatically resigns with him.
Netanyahu 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 reappointment.
follows Attorney-General Yehuda 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 Ben-Aryeh.
It was widely predicted that Liberman would be
charged with breach of trust for allegedly not revealing that Ben-Aryeh had
leaked information to him regarding a separate investigation against him when he
visited the ambassador in Belarus in 2008. But the fraud charge for allegedly
helping Ben-Aryeh advance to two additional positions in the Foreign Ministry as
“payment” for his leaking of classified information to Liberman, 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 of millions of dollars, fraud and other allegations from 2001 to
Reacting to Liberman’s resignation, a Meretz spokesman said the
party would withdraw its petition once the resignation takes effect.
Hoffman contributed to this report.