Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced Friday that he has decided to resign from office following the breach of trust indictment pending against him.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced the decision to indict Lieberman on Thursday, in a case involveing the promotion of former Israeli ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben Aryeh.
Once the decision was made public, the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman called on the Knesset to lift his parliamentary immunity immediately so he could confront the charges “as soon as possible.”
In a statement released Friday, Lieberman said: “Today, I held meetings with my attorneys and members of the election campaign. Considering the nature of the indictment and the circumstances of the case – and despite the fact that according to legal opinion I am not obligated to do so – I have decided to resign from office.”
“I know that I have done nothing wrong, but out of desire to put this matter behind me… I have deiced to step down as foreign minister and deputy prime minister and, as I said yesterday, have my parliamentary immunity removed immediately.
“After 16 years of having various investigations held against me, I wish to end this matter without delay and clear my name completely,” Lieberman said.
“I believe that the Israeli public deserves to of the ballots after this matter has been settled, meaning with a ruling given before the elections, so I can continue serving the State of Israel and its public as part of a strong, united leadership.”
He stressed that the lengthy investigation against him was without merit, saying that “After all these years and legal proceedings even top legalists believe this case has no criminal aspects.”
Lieberman’s resignation will have no bearing on Yisrael Beiteinu’s election campaign, nor is it likely to affect Lieberman’s own bid for the Knesset.
The foreign minister was the focus of two investigations, which were launched in 2001 and spanned nine countries.
The AG decided to close the second case against him, which involved suspicions of money-laundering and bribery, citing “lack of evidentiary merit.”
‘Cynical, meaningless move’
Senior political sources told Ynet that following Lieberman’s resignation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to keep the foreign relations portfolio until after January’s elections.
Should Netanyahu decide to name a replacement for Lieberman, his shortlist will include Vice Premier Silvan Shalom and Education Minister Gideon Saar.
Netanyahu reportedly announced that he will keep the portfolio “in trust” until after next month’s elections, with aim of reinstating Lieberman, “If the law so allows.”
In the event that Lieberman is cleared of all charges and reelcted, his position as the No. 2 man on the Likud-Beiteinu list will enable him to choose one of the top three offices – the Foreign Ministry, the Treasury or the Defense Ministry.
Lieberman’s decision came as a surprise, as on Thursday he announced that he did not intend to resign. The statement prompted Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On to file a High Court of Justice petition to force him to do so.
Gal-on welcomed the move, saying that Lieberman “Spared himself the shame of waiting a High Court ruling that would hav forced him to resign.”
Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich also welcomed the decision: “This was a given. Anyone facing a criminal indictment should not stay in pubic office for one minute. Lieberman injured the rule of law and damaged the public’s trust in its elected officials and democracy.”
Hatnua Chairwoman Tzipi Livni said in a statement that “Avigdor Lieberman did the right thing. I hope is gets a speedy trial.”
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) slammed the move, saying it was “A cynical and meaningless move. A resignation tendered one month prior to the elections is meaningless.
“It’s a very serious issue, when the prime minister’s top political partner is a man accused of criminal acts, who flouts the law and who promotes forceful norms.
“Lieberman is not just a symbol for disregard of the law; he is also a symbol for trampling all over democratic norms. In a self-respecting democracy, no such man can serve in office. The public must speak out via the ballots and reject both the prime minister and his partner.”