Exit of for­eign min­is­ter roils Is­raeli pol­i­tics

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By ian Deitch

JERUSALEM — The res­ig­na­tion of pow­er­ful For­eign Min­is­ter Avig­dor Lieber­man, Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s top Cab­i­net part­ner, has shaken up Is­raeli pol­i­tics a month be­fore elec­tions. An­a­lysts say Ne­tanyahu is likely to sur­vive but is los­ing a val­ued ally.

Lieber­man an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion Fri­day, a day af­ter the at­tor­ney gen­eral filed an in­dict­ment for breach of trust in a fraud and money-laun­der­ing case.

“I did not break any law,” he in­sisted, and voiced con­fi­dence he would be cleared be­fore the Jan. 22 elec­tion.

Lieber­man’s Yis­rael Beit­enu and Ne­tanyahu’s Likud Party re­cently joined forces in the par­lia­men­tary elec­tion, en­abling the charis­matic ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist to po­si­tion him­self as Ne­tanyahu’s heir.

Opin­ion polls have pre­dicted the list would be by far the largest bloc in Is­rael’s par­lia­ment, the Knes­set, and would lead a new coali­tion government. But with­out Lieber­man’s sway, ne­go­ti­a­tions for such a coali­tion among frac­tious par­ties will be more com­pli­cated.

The blunt-talk­ing politi­cian, a na­tive of Moldova, amassed power with sup­port from Soviet Union im­mi­grants and oth­ers drawn to him against Is­raeli Arabs, dovish groups, the Pales­tini­ans and West­ern Europe.

His res­ig­na­tion could mean that Ne­tanyahu would be stuck with a list of leftovers of­fer­ing lit­tle ap­peal to vot­ers.

Lieber­man spokesman Tzachi Moshe said the min­is­ter is not re­sign­ing from the party list, mean­ing he is still run­ning for par­lia­ment.

Avra­ham Diskin, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at He­brew Univer­sity, said said Lieber­man’s ab­sence might push vot­ers to par­ties even fur­ther right.

Lieber­man has had 16 years of in­ves­ti­ga­tions into sus­pi­cions he il­lic­itly re­ceived mil­lions of dol­lars from busi­ness­men and laun­dered the cash through straw com­pa­nies in east­ern Europe.

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