Although Avigdor Lieberman stepped down as foreign minister on Sunday, a great opportunity has now presented itself to him. Lieberman hopes that he will be able to put the whole corruption case behind him by the Knesset election in January. If he does, this will mark the first time in the past decade and a half that he will not have a legal cloud hanging over him during election time.
But alongside Lieberman's hopes, he also faces risks. Lieberman's associates talk about the "Raful precedent." In June 1996, Rafael "Raful" Eitan, the head of the Tzomet party and former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, was charged for forbidden use of a military document. A court hearing took place at which Eitan appeared as the defendant. He emerged four minutes later completely exonerated. Lieberman's associates say there are many similarities between the indictments against Lieberman and Eitan. Both cases, Lieberman's associates say, involved defendants receiving documents that they did not seek.
Lieberman's case, however, may be more complex. The time window is too compressed. The election will occur in just over a month. Lieberman said on Sunday that he wants to go to trial, but the quickest way to a resolution of the case is probably a plea bargain.
But unlike a trial, the plea bargain route contains a trap. Lieberman could not emerge from a plea bargain exonerated from the charges against him. He could escape from punishment and it is certain that he would do everything in his power to ensure that his crime would not be deemed as "moral turpitude." But a plea bargain would require an admission of guilt. Lieberman could not agree to a plea bargain and claim his innocence.
After being investigated for 16 years, Lieberman has lost faith in the justice system. Fortunately for him, his supporters have as well. Lieberman's voters, who gave his party 15 Knesset seats in the last election, want him to be a top minister in the government. A small legal charge against Lieberman does not bother them. In fact, Lieberman's image of being hounded by the justice system may only help him. What affects most politicians in one way has the opposite effect on Lieberman. For others, comebacks occur only after resigning. For Lieberman, resigning is part of the comeback.