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28.11.2014
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Lieberman indictment may keep him out of government for years
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Dan Margalit

Is Lieberman losing it?

The State Prosecution will file the upgraded, yet fragile, indictment against Yisrael Beytenu leader and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday. The case has been in limbo for the past two weeks, ever since new revelations emerged.

For Lieberman and his political allies, this is not a welcome development. The Likud would have liked to end this embarrassing saga by having Lieberman leave the Knesset in a timely manner, just as he stepped down from his cabinet post on Dec. 14, after he was informed he would be indicted. Lieberman has been a fixture of Likud-Beytenu campaign posters and political photo-ops, to the annoyance of many in the joint Yisrael Beytenu-Likud Knesset list.

Had Lieberman left politics, it would have benefited the large ruling party. Being an incumbent MK is not a prerequisite for entering the cabinet. Thus, when all is said and done, if he is acquitted or if his sentence does not carry moral turpitude, he could be reappointed as a minister. But none of this will happen.

Alternatively, Lieberman could agree to go under the radar for a while. Lieberman is hurting the Likud-Beytenu ticket through his many campaign appearances and defiant style.

There are three weeks left until elections. Lieberman can take a page from Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president, who famously said, "I was never regretful of things I didn’t say." Likud-Beytenu would not be upset if Lieberman hunkered down in his shell for a while.

Perhaps due to psychological duress, the Lieberman we have seen as of late bears no resemblance to the Lieberman of the past several years. No longer is he an astute politician with sharp political instincts.

What was his political rationale for resigning from the government and relinquishing the title of foreign minister? He could have easily held on to his high-profile job, the same job he wants to reoccupy some day, as long as the indictment was not official. Why did he antagonize then Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, his second-in-command in the ministry, by denying him a spot on the party's candidate list for the coming elections? Ayalon knew Lieberman's secret, that he had allegedly offered Ze'ev Ben Aryeh the post of ambassador in exchange for confidential material form the police investigation against him. How, then, could he have acted with such recklessness and hubris as to boot Ayalon? Shouldn't he have offered an explanation or some sort of political compensation?

It doesn't mean that all hope is lost for Lieberman. Lieberman used to be the savviest of political players. Lieberman must have known that he would not be left unscathed by the problematic promotion of Ben Aryeh. Ben Aryeh and Lieberman had other people around them, at least part of the time, during the meeting where the then-ambassador allegedly handed Lieberman the classified material.

Ayalon's testimony is also problematic. When Ayalon was recently questioned by the police he appeared to contradict the public statements he made in various interviews. It may be a case of repressed-memory testimony, in which a witness changes his version of events after he has already testified.

Lieberman may eventually shape up and put his best foot forward, but the Lieberman we have seen over the past few weeks is not the Lieberman we have come to know.

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