'Lieberman's ouster could dissolve his party'

Likud sources say Israel Beiteinu MKs will likely shift over to Likud if Lieberman is indicted.

Avigdor Lieberman 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Avigdor Lieberman 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
If Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is indicted by the state prosecution, Israel Beiteinu will likely become a satellite party of the Likud and its MKs will eventually formally shift over, Likud sources assessed Wednesday. Thus a prospective indictment of Lieberman could have the ironic effect of stabilizing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition, sources in the Likud said. Police met with Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz in the capital on Tuesday night to discuss the final stages of Lieberman's criminal investigation. They are expected to submit their recommendation to indict Lieberman to Mazuz as early as next week. Lieberman's 15-seat Israel Beiteinu is the only faction that could bring down Netanyahu by leaving the 74-MK coalition. But sources in both the Likud and Israel Beiteinu said they believed Lieberman's party would remain in the coalition even if he were forced to leave the cabinet. By law, Lieberman would not be compelled to resign from his ministry unless he was actually indicted, something that would not happen for at least six months and probably a year after the police issue a recommendation to the attorney-general. According to a new law, he would automatically leave the Knesset if he were convicted, but could return if exonerated. Until a conviction, he could remain an MK. But Lieberman could decide independently to resign to concentrate on clearing his name, perhaps as early as after the police issue their recommendation. Should Lieberman resign, the most likely scenario would be that Netanyahu would hold his title as foreign minister while Lieberman's deputy, former ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon, would function as foreign minister. A senior diplomat of one of Israel's top allies said recently that if this would happen, Lieberman's departure would not be noticed, because "we treat Ayalon as if he is the real foreign minister now anyway." Ayalon declined to comment. Other possible replacements for Lieberman include his No. 2 in Israel Beiteinu, National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau; Likud ministers Silvan Shalom, Dan Meridor and Moshe Ya'alon; and perhaps even Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz. Sources close to Netanyahu have said that former Shas leader Aryeh Deri is not a possible replacement, despite reports that Lieberman would want Deri to replace him. Coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin pointed out that 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 Mofaz to break off from Kadima and to give hope to Likud ministers that they could get promoted. But Israel Beiteinu sources revealed that during coalition talks, the reason the Likud gave for designating the portfolio for Lieberman was that they did not want Landau to take over the ministry. Meridor has said he was given no indication when he received the Intelligence Agencies portfolio that he could be promoted to foreign minister. Such a possibility was raised in talks with Shalom when he was considering remaining outside the cabinet, but no promise was made to him in writing. If any Likud minister other than Shalom were promoted to the job that was Shalom's under prime minister Ariel Sharon, Shalom might quit the cabinet in protest or lead efforts against Netanyahu inside the Likud.