cross -posted with FPW.
The Israeli daily papers got into some sort of a fight this week over the state of foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s criminal investigation. While Yedioth Ahronoth claimed that the police finished its work and the decision whether to file charges against Liberman is now at the hands of the legal counselor for the government, Meni Mazuz (who serves in Israel as the head of the prosecution as well), Maariv daily paper insisted that the investigation is not over yet. But both papers agree on the basic facts: according to sources in the police, substantial evidences of corruption was found, and a criminal charge against Liberman is all but inevitable.
Is the political career of the person labeled is “Israel’s Jorg Haider” is about to reach its end? It’s hard to tell. First, in a week marked by the return to politics of the star of the 90′s, Shas’ legendary leader, Aryeh Deri, one can only repeat the lesson given by Israel’s biggest comeback kid ever, Ariel Sharon: stay on the big wheel, because the ride never really ends (a somewhat ironic idea, considering Sharon’s years of coma, which have yet come to an end). Second, it is clear that Liberman won’t leave without a fight.
Every step taken by Liberman in the past few months was interpreted by the Israeli media as part of an elaborate plan aimed at gaining support in the final showdown against the General Prosecution. When he first stepped into office and had some extreme remarks, it was said he is building his power in the Right. When he spoke in favor of a limited Palestinian state, it was said he was trying to win the political center. One thing is clear: it was no accident that Liberman’s party, Israel Beitenu, insisted on gaining control over the Police and a veto power over the identity of Justice Minister. However, judging from the recent progress in the investigation, it didn’t help Liberman so far.
It is clear that Liberman will go on portraying himself as a victim of conspiracy by the left, the police and the “old elites”, but still, his resignation seems like a matter of months, maybe a year. He might come back in the future, but for now the leaks from the investigation sound more conclusive than ever, and after Mazuz’s likely decision to press charges, Liberman will run out of options.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be the last person to shed tears over the likely departure of Liberman, who used to be his political right hand and has since turned into a powerful opponent. His party, Israel Beitenu, will probably stay in the coalition, but without Liberman, they will find it very hard to cause the PM much trouble (not that they did until now). And Netanyahu will have a most prestigious position – the foreign office – to help him lure into the government Kadima’s number two, Shaul Mofaz, thus splitting the main opposition party, and further stabilizing his already a strong coalition.
The Israeli left won’t be too sorry as well. In the past decade, Liberman was capitalizing on the growing anti-Arab sentiment in the Jewish population. Unlike the radical right, he was smart enough to avoid criminalization, but his massage – summarized in his infamous campaign slogan, “Liberman speaks Arabic” – was clear: this is the strongman who will crack down on Israel’s large Palestinian minority. As I wrote before, even the fact that Liberman accepted the two state solution, long before Netanyahu, was used by him to question the legal and political future of the Arab citisens, by demanding that most of them will be stripped of their Israeli nationality and included in the future Palestinian state. The widespreading popularity of Liberman was – and still is – a badge of shame on the state of Israel, and I dare say, on the whole Jewish people. As an Israeli, I find his current troubles to be of little comfort – this is a man who should have been beaten in the polls, not run out of office on petty corruption charges.