The trial of Avigdor Lieberman finally got underway this week. The former foreign minister is being tried on charges less serious than those that were initially considered. But the indictment filed by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein against Lieberman was an achievement, even as Lieberman retains the presumption of innocence.
The political angle of the case has not ended with the start of the trial, as the trial's length and outcome will affect the fate of the foreign affairs portfolio in the next government. Lieberman asked on Sunday for the trial to be expedited, but future court sessions were set for May and it is reasonable to assume that even more time will be needed for gathering evidence. Various factors, including the presentations by the prosecution and defense, will stretch the trial out for a year, or at least until toward the end of 2013. This is without taking into account an appeal of the verdict from the losing side.
The political situation is puzzling. Why must Israel go through the next year without a foreign minister? This is unheard of in a Western democracy.
There is, however, nothing preventing a coalition from waiting for new partners. Menachem Begin did this after the 1977 election, when he waited for Yigael Yadin and the Democratic Movement for Change party. But while waiting is possible, it is not recommended. Certainly not when the person you are waiting for is sitting in a defendant's chair.
A suitable short-term move would be to give the foreign affairs portfolio to a minister from Likud or Yisrael Beytenu to hold in reserve for Lieberman. The minister would know in advance that Lieberman, if acquitted, would return to the foreign ministry and the 'substitute' would then be moved to another ministry.
There are plenty of candidates for this role. Yisrael Beytenu's Yair Shamir could be appointed and find on the walls of the Foreign Ministry building pictures of his father Yitzhak, who served as foreign minister in the early 1980s. By giving this position to Yisrael Beytenu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could open up another spot for a Likud ministerial hopeful (there are more Likud ministerial candidates than positions available for them). There is no shortage of candidates.
Israel deserves a full-time foreign minister, even if he or she has to work on a conditional basis. The chance that Lieberman will able to return as foreign minister during the 19th Knesset's term is no higher than 50 percent.
This current complication is not interesting in and of itself. But it is one in a series of mishaps that stemmed from the old politics that no longer speak to the hearts of most Israelis.