On Tuesday night, former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was questioned for 40 minutes at the offices of the Lahav 433 unit in Lod. The unit was inaugurated back in 2008, as part of the police intelligence unit, to investigate major crimes and corruption. Needless to say, it’s a very busy unit.
But they took time off their busy schedule, on the request of the prosecutor’s office, to ask Mr. Liberman some questions—a most unusual move, considering the fact that the case was already being presented to the court, or a minute or so before the submission.
This is because what was expected to be a walk in the park for Liberman may end up being a walk in the same park, but in prison garb and hauling a garden spade and a wheelbarrow. Why? Possibly because you can’t push around all the people all the time. On occasion, they push back.
A while ago, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was asked by the prosecution whether or not Minister Liberman was involved in promoting the appointment of an ambassador to Belarus (a major no-no – these appointments must be made strictly by an appointments committee staffed by mostly civil servants and chaired by one Danny Ayalon). At the time, Ayalon could not, for the life of him, recall whether or not Liberman was influencing the process, or even if he was present in the room during the committee meetings.
Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes you forget something completely, and then something dramatic happens and, all of a sudden, you remember everything. In Ayalon’s case it had to do with the famous ride he allegedly took with his boss, FM Liberman, to a press conference where Liberman was going to announce the list of top Israel Beiteinu candidates for the Knesset. Allegedly, while in the car together, on the way to the event, Liberman turned to his deputy and informed him that, by the way, he’s not on the list.
There was wide speculation as to why Ayalon was being punished – in the end it was decided he was just too uppity for Liberman’s taste. Why, Ayalon was becoming very popular on his own, what with his facebook page and his You Tube clips, and the incident when he forced the Turkish ambassador to sit in a tiny chair just to humble him a bit. Ayalon was visibly shaken by the snub, but still managed to mumble to the press that he is there only to serve, blah blah blah.
Turns out, shortly thereafter, according to a prosecution leak, Danny Ayalon started remembering stuff. Suddenly—so goes the leak—the appointments committee chair recalled, for instance, that Liberman actually did influence the appointment of our man in Belarus (who is serving time as we speak for alerting Liberman regarding another investigation against him) – in fact, Liberman was in the room during the committee meeting.
So now everything is going to change, because the prosecution smelled blood in the water, and so it told the court to wait a while, there’s new stuff coming, and Liberman found himself yet again before a police interrogator – or a few of them.
Liberman came to his police interrogation directly from the National Hall in Jerusalem, where he and his co-leader on the Likud-Beiteinu list, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, launched their the Knesset elections campaign.
A week ago, Liberman resigned from his post as Foreign Minister, so that he could get over the court case, or the plea agreement, quickly, in time for him to return to active campaigning. Now it’s no longer a sure thing. Not with the strong indications from the prosecution leaks that a new body of evidence is being accumulated against him, as, apparently, a few other committee members have started to recall stuff.
When you’re down and out, folks are no longer so deeply afraid of you. Even when you’re potentially down and out, some brave souls would find the courage to kick you a little further in the wrong direction on the slope.
Now Netanyahu is in a huge bind. First, he’s starting to get ready to absorb the ricochets from a potential Liberman conviction that would disable the latter for a while. First, he’s going to have to adjust to a smaller Knesset faction. From 42 seats in the outgoing 18th Knesset, he’s facing anywhere from 36 down to 32. Life with Liberman the liability will be far less comfortable than life with Liberman the asset.
Netanyahu has one, central and burning issue—besides his own career, of course—and that’s Iran. No other concern comes even close. In his mind, the coming year will usher in a confrontation with our arch enemy, and when that moment comes, Netanyahu does not wish to remain bereft of friends in the West, especially not in the White House.
This is why he will revive the peace process, freeze settlement construction, evacuate Jewish homes. Not because he is an enemy of the settlement movement or because he loves the idea of a Palestinian state. He simply views those issues as secondary to the existential challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear threat.
With that in mind, Netanyahu will not turn to his right in search of coalition partners. Those will have to come from the “near” left parties: Labor, Livni, Lapid. Or, possibly two out of those three and the Ashkenazi Haredim from Torah Judaism, who come with a predictable, convenient price tag.
Netanyahu already announced that he is ready to do war with Shas over the Ministry of Housing, because he needs it as a dowry to the left, to satisfy their voters’ outcries of unfairness in awarding government sponsored housing to secular couples.
This, of course, could turn out to be a lie, and if Shas becomes a crucial component of a stable coalition government, they might end up retaining their prized possession.
Another Netanyahu statement that could turn out to be just a lie is what he said Wednesday night about Tzipi Livni not serving as his Foreign Minister, ever, absolutely, no way. He is determined to keep the Foreign office on hold for his partner, Liberman. If need be, Netanyahu will serve as FM until Liberman concludes his court affairs.
He also said that Livni would not be permitted near the peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Those used to be Livni’s two specialties in the Ehud Olmert government, before Olmert ended up mired in his own court affairs. And some folks on the inside have said she was pretty good at both assignments.
What would Netanyahu do should Livni insist on running the Foreign Ministry, and peace negotiations, while Liberman would be following politics from behind bars? She might just get it.
When Netanyahu denies some things vehemently – you can be almost certain he’s lying and has no intention of actually doing what he promises. This time he not only denies planning to give Livni her choice appointments, he even denies having sent her emissaries to negotiate anything at all.
She’s practically a shoo-in.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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