FM: My party will stay in gov't

Lieberman says an indictment against him will not change coalition structure.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
March 5, 2010 05:31
3 minute read.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

lieberman threatening 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman revealed for the first time on Thursday that he would insist on his Israel Beiteinu Party remaining in the coalition even if he were forced to quit politics to fight the corruption allegations against him.

Lieberman announced last summer that he would resign from his cabinet post and from the chairmanship of Israel Beiteinu if he were indicted, even though legally he would not be required to do so.

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Since then, speculation has raged about whether the party would remain in the coalition without Lieberman, and who would replace him in both jobs.

At a press conference at Ramat Gan’s Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel on Thursday, Lieberman said the speculation was irrelevant because he did not believe he would be indicted. He said he believed he would remain foreign minister until the next election, which he predicted would take place in 2012.

“Israel Beiteinu is part of the coalition, regardless of Avigdor Lieberman,” the foreign minister told reporters at the event. “The investigation has no connection to our fate in or out of the coalition.”

Sources close to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded that they did not believe Lieberman would be indicted and that they expected Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s decision on the subject to take time. They said they had assumed \all along, however, that if he were indicted, Israel Beiteinu would stay.

Speculation had risen in recent days about the possibility of Kadima (28 MKs) joining the government in place of Israel Beiteinu (15 MKs) and opposition leader Tzipi Livni replacing Lieberman as foreign minister in the case of a Lieberman indictment. Kadima faction head Dalia Itzik checked that possibility with Netanyahu in a meeting last week and publicly called for a national-unity government at the Knesset on Wednesday.



President Shimon Peres has spoken in recent days about the need for Kadima to join the government to allow Netanyahu to take a major diplomatic step. But Peres’s office said his support for a national-unity government was not new, and Likud sources said Lieberman’s announcement removed the small chance there had been of Kadima joining the coalition in its entirety.

Netanyahu will continue trying to split Kadima and bring Shaul Mofaz along with at least six Kadima MKs into the coalition. But Likud officials ruled out the possibility of Mofaz being given the Foreign Affairs portfolio.

In the event of a Lieberman indictment, Netanyahu’s associates said the most likely scenario was that the prime minister would technically hold the portfolio for three months while Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon of Israel Beiteinu did Lieberman’s job. The most likely candidate to serve as interim head of the party would be MK Faina Kirschenbaum, who is the Israel Beiteinu’s secretary-general.

Lieberman lashed out at Livni in the press conference for attacking him in her speech to the Knesset on Wednesday. In the speech, Livni said Netanyahu should have reprimanded Lieberman for attacking law enforcement authorities.

“I heard an MK say that the prime minister cannot be silent after Lieberman’s attacks on the police inspector-general,” Lieberman said, referring to Livni. “I didn’t see that MK quit the government or cause a crisis over all the attacks on the legal establishment from [former prime minister Ehud] Olmert and [former justice minister Haim] Ramon.”

Kadima sources responded that on multiple occasions, Livni had stood up against such attacks by Olmert, Ramon and former justice minister Daniel Friedmann. They said Livni had never had a problem with Israel Beiteinu, and what would determine whether Kadima joined the coalition had to do with the government’s policies, not the portfolios available.

But a different Kadima official who supports joining the coalition blamed the lack of a national-unity government on Netanyahu and Livni.

“The real problem is that Netanyahu and Livni can’t stand each other,” the official said. “The people want Kadima in the government, but Netanyahu and Livni are just dealing with personal issues. They both care only about themselves and not about Israel.”

Yaakov Lappin and Dov Preminger contributed to this report.

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