(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
If Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz accepts Sunday's police recommendation to indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Lieberman can decide the fate of his portfolio, a source close to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday night.
Sources close to Mazuz have said it could take as little as two months to issue an indictment, which would require Lieberman to resign his cabinet post but not to quit the Knesset.
In such a likely scenario, Lieberman is expected to decide to keep his Israel Beiteinu Party in the coalition and will likely entrust the Foreign Ministry to his deputy, former ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon. But it is still unclear whether Lieberman would let Ayalon take his title or whether Netanyahu would hold it while Ayalon would function as foreign minister from his deputy post.
"First of all, Lieberman would have to decide what to do," a source close to Netanyahu said. "It's always in the back of our minds, but it really is premature to discuss what will happen in the event of an indictment. There are more urgent things to deal with."
In the coalition agreement with Israel Beiteinu, it states that the Foreign Affairs portfolio was given specifically to Lieberman, as opposed to every other portfolio, which was given to the parties in the coalition to allocate on their own.
Likud sources said this subtle change was made purposely so portfolios could be reallocated if Lieberman were indicted. Netanyahu reportedly insisted that the portfolio's fate be left an open question to entice MK Shaul Mofaz to break off from Kadima and to give hope to Likud ministers that they could get promoted.
But a Israel Beiteinu official said Netanyahu was well aware that Israel Beiteinu was the only party that could break up the coalition and it would therefore be "crazy" for Netanyahu to defy Lieberman by trying to wrest the portfolio from his party.
Israel Beiteinu MKs and officials made a point of portraying the police recommendation as "business as usual." They said it was expected and that it would be irrelevant in the long run.
"It's gone on for a long, long time and this is just another chapter," a source in the Foreign Ministry said. I don't see any major movement in the Foreign Ministry as if something is afoot."
Opposition MKs slammed Netanyahu for allowing Lieberman to remain foreign minister despite the police decision.
Former deputy foreign minister Majallie Whbee of Kadima said that "every moment that Israel's foreign minister remains a man who the police recommend indicting for serious corruption charges, grave damage is done to Israel's image in the world."
A Netanyahu associate said that Lieberman was innocent until proven guilty and that prime ministers have also been under investigation and that it was "not a big deal."
Labor MK Yuli Tamir said it was "hypocritical and shameful" that Defense Minister Ehud Barak was keeping Labor in a coalition with Lieberman after presenting himself as a fighter against corruption.
MK Afo Agbaria (Hadash) said it was a pity that the police did not recommend to also indict Lieberman for his "criminally racist and hateful views."
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