Analysis: Is this the end of Bibi’s coalition?

By Anshel Pfeffer, March 4, 2010
If Lieberman’s party exits the government, Netanyahu might bring in centrist Kadima

If Lieberman’s party exits the government, Netanyahu might bring in centrist Kadima

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has become embroiled in another criminal investigation, just when a decision on a possible indictment against him seems imminent.

If he is indicted, Mr Lieberman will have to resign his ministerial post and many coalition insiders believe that his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, will not stay for long in the Netanyahu government. Their departure would almost certainly cause a dramatic change in the coalition's make-up and could lead to the entry of the main opposition party, Kadima, into the government.

Mr Lieberman was questioned by the police's National Fraud Division for two hours on Tuesday over the allegation that he had been shown secret information regarding the ongoing investigation against him by Israel's ambassador to Belarus, Zeev Ben-Arie.

The investigation against Mr Lieberman over alleged money laundering has been running for almost a decade and has taken place in numerous countries, including former Soviet republics.

Ambassador Ben-Arie allegedly showed Mr Lieberman an official request for information and co-operation sent in mid-2008 by Israeli Police to their counterparts in Minsk through the Israeli Embassy. The request included a detailed account of the allegations against Mr Lieberman and the information they still need.

Mr Ben-Arie, who was appointed to the Minsk embassy in 2004 largely as a result of Mr Lieberman's lobbying on his behalf, admitted, according to police sources, to having shown his benefactor the contents of the police request.

During his interrogation, Mr Lieberman claimed that he was offered the information by the ambassador but that he had declined the offer. His lawyer wrote to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein demanding that the Internal Police Investigations Department look into who leaked the details of the investigation to the press.

Senior sources in the Justice Ministry said this week that the decision whether or not to indict Mr Lieberman is only a few weeks away. The police have already handed State Prosecutor Moshe Lador with their recommendations on the case.

The investigators believe there is sufficient evidence for money-laundering charges.

If Mr Lieberman is indicted and forced to resign, Mr Netanyahu would be able to nominate a replacement from Yisrael Beiteinu because he gave the position of Foreign Minister to
his party as part of the coalition

If, however, Mr Lieberman decides to remove his party from the coalition altogether, this could throw the coalition into turmoil.

But there would be opportunities for Mr Netanyahu as well as risks.

Although there is always the chance that he would not manage to re-form a coalition, he might be able to bring the main opposition party, Kadima, into the government, giving him a broad coalition spanning right, centre and left. This would allow him to take bolder steps on the diplomatic front and the moderate government would be more appealing to many of his critics internationally.

It is possible, also, that he could use the opportunity to split Kadima, which is already riven by internal conflict between its head, Tzipi Livni, and the number two on the Kadima list, Shaul Mofaz.

Mr Mofaz has long campaigned to join the coalition. With senior portfolios, including the foreign ministry, suddenly vacant, Mr Netanyahu will have much to offer Mr Mofaz and his supporters in Kadima if they wished to form a new party and join him.

Last updated: 4:58pm, March 4 2010