Avigdor Lieberman has been an embarrassment as Israel’s foreign minister. Whether he is praising Vladimir Putin and the recent Russian elections as fair and democratic or being shunned by other world leaders, Lieberman has probably been Israel’s most ineffectual and irrelevant foreign minister in history. His appointment to the post is a result of Israel’s dysfunctional political system in which Netanyahu had no choice but to bring Yisrael Beiteinu into the government, creating tension within his cabinet between the staunchly secular Lieberman and his Haredi coalition partners in Shas. Thankfully, developments are making it likely that Lieberman’s tenure as a figure of importance is over.
In the grand tradition of Israeli politicians such as Ehud Olmert and Ezer Weizman, Lieberman is terribly corrupt and has spent a lifetime engaging in shady and possibly illegal behavior. The attorney general is right now deciding whether to indict Lieberman for fraud, money laundering, corruption, and witness tampering, and if he is indicted or a plea bargain is negotiated, it means that he can no longer serve in the cabinet. The likelihood of this happening is relatively high given that Israel has never shied away from investigating its highest officials – its past president is right now in prison for rape and sexual harassment – and that the list of illegal things that Lieberman is suspected of doing is quite long. Furthermore, the former Israeli ambassador to Belarus was indicted yesterday for illegally alerting Lieberman to the fact that he was being investigated, which suggests that Lieberman himself will be next.
However, in the unlikely event that Lieberman manages to escape the long arm of the law, it looks like his time in government is coming to an end anyway. The crisis that he has instigated within the coalition over the Tal Law has earned him Netanyahu’s ire, and Netanyahu is looking for a way to not have to include him in the next coalition, a move that might be tough given that Likud is expected to win only 30-32 seats and will have to rely on smaller right wing parties. Fortunately, Yair Lapid and his new Yesh Atid party may provide Bibi with a way out. Last month, Lapid announced his willingness to join a future Netanyahu government and criticized Kadima for not doing so following the last elections. Yesterday he took a step toward making this pledge a reality by introducing his own solution for replacing the Tal Law and dealing with Haredi military service by extending their blanket exemption from serving in the IDF for another five years. The reason this is important is because Netanyahu needs to get to 61 seats, and it is going to be next to impossible for him to do so without relying on Haredi parties. The Haredi parties are not going to tolerate Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu in the government coalition again – and Lieberman probably cannot serve alongside Shas after the elections given the preferences of his voter base – so Netanyahu needs to find someone who is acceptable to Shas and UTJ. With his proposal that basically kicks the issue of Haredi military service down the road by calling for “service for all” but not for half a decade (which is an eternity in Israeli politics), Lapid is announcing loud and clear that he is willing to be that guy. It seems shocking that Tommy Lapid’s son is willing to pander to the ultra-orthodox in order to be part of the government, but Yair Lapid is doing just that, and he is giving Netanyahu a great way of getting rid of Lieberman once and for all.