Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has decided that there is no legal obstacle to an agreement whereby the Foreign Ministry will be reserved for Avigdor Liberman, who had to step down as top diplomat late last year to fight fraud charges, Weinstein’s assistant said Wednesday.
Weinstein’s view is that Liberman’s fitness to serve as foreign minister can only be determined based on the outcome of his trial, Assistant Attorney General Oren Pono said. Weinstein also noted that the appointment of ministers is the exclusive prerogative of the Knesset, and that the practice of withholding portfolios pending a later development had antecedents with previous governments.
Liberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beytenu party, has stated that he will retire from political life if his trial ends in anything but acquittal.
Pono related Weinstein’s position to Labor MK Merav Michaeli, who had sought the attorney general’s intervention against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intention to keep the Foreign portfolio off the table during coalition talks.
Pono brushed off the argument that the specter of Liberman’s return would affect the testimonies of Foreign Ministry employees slated to testify in his trial, saying that similar pressure was at work in other cases where state employees were required to testify against their superiors.
Netanyahu’s agreement with Liberman has been put to the test in coalition talks with Yesh Atid, whose leader Yair Lapid has his eyes set on the foreign minister position. On Wednesday, Likud sources slammed Lapid for his supposed obsession with the post, saying it was damaging to the coalition-building process, and that his appointment “isn’t going to happen.”
With Yesh Atid and its close partner, the Jewish Home party, seemingly on the verge of joining the government, coalition talks have been focusing on who gets which Cabinet positions, especially the most prestigious of the lot — the Defense, Finance, and Foreign ministries.
A coalition deal involving Yesh Atid and Jewish Home would likely leave the ultra-Orthodox parties out of the government. In recent days, ultra-Orthodox politicians and pundits have been leveling unprecedented criticism at Jewish Home and Israel’s national religious community, even threatening a boycott of products manufactured over the Green Line and asserting that the Haredi community would support the uprooting of settlements.
On Wednesday, MK Yisrael Eichler of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) launched a scathing attack on Jewish Home’s leader, Naftali Bennett, and, in an allusion to the wealth that Bennett acquired as a high-tech entrepreneur, said, “A millionaire came to Jewish Jome, bought a constituency and sold it to its enemies,” Lapid and Yesh Atid.
“He came out of nowhere with $100 million in his pocket, bought the foundering Jewish Home party, turned it into a political startup that yielded 10 [Knesset] seats, and then sold it on the coalition stock market to the highest bidder [Lapid],” Eichler said in a Knesset speech.
Bennett on Wednesday attempted to put the brakes on the fast-escalating feud between his party and the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox factions, UTJ and Shas, dismissing allegations that he had refused to join the coalition with those parties and asserting that the ultra-Orthodox were still very much “our brothers.”
“I don’t know what the make-up of the next government will be,” said Bennett in a Hebrew video uploaded to YouTube.
“Yes, we will make the necessary adjustments,” he conceded, referring to expected legislation on universal conscription, an initiative that has proved an insurmountable boundary in coalition talks with the ultra-Orthodox parties. “But we shall do so through dialogue, not by coercion.”