Knesset approves Liberman as foreign minister, again

After being cleared of charges last week and gaining cabinet approval on Sunday, former FM sworn in as Israel’s top diplomat

Avigdor Liberman takes his oath of office in front at the Knesset on November 11, 2013. The 120-member House confirmed by a vote of 62 to 17 his reappointment as foreign minister (Photo credit: Flash90)
Avigdor Liberman takes his oath of office in front at the Knesset on November 11, 2013. The 120-member House confirmed by a vote of 62 to 17 his reappointment as foreign minister (Photo credit: Flash90)

The Knesset on Monday approved Avigdor Liberman’s reappointment as foreign minister, less than a week after a Jerusalem court cleared him of all charges.

On Sunday, the cabinet gave the green light for the Yisrael Beytenu chief to return to its ranks after waiting almost a year while being indicted and facing trial on fraud and breach-of-trust charges. Lawmakers voted 62 in favor and 17 against Liberman’s appointment, and one MK abstained.

Liberman was sworn in immediately after the vote.

Ahead of the Knesset vote to reinstate Liberman, Meretz leader Zahava Gal-on said that putting the right-wing party leader at the head of the Foreign Ministry “is like putting explosives on the peace process.” Labor Party MK Yitzhak Herzog said Liberman’s appointment would be “a very grave mistake.”

The case against Liberman revolved around an ambassadorial appointment that prosecutors alleged had been a reward to the appointee for his help in Liberman’s battle against a separate corruption investigation. He was acquitted last week on all charges related to the appointment by a three-judge panel of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

The foreign minister’s return to the cabinet means he will be leaving behind one of the most prestigious roles in the Knesset, where he has served in recent months as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Several MKs are reportedly seeking to replace him at the head of the committee, including Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) and coalition chair Yariv Levin (Likud). It remained to be determined, however, who would replace him as the chair.

Liberman’s reappointment as foreign minister gives his party an additional ministerial position, and Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction has indicated it wants something in return. Specifically, Lapid wants MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) to chair the FADC in addition to giving Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) a seat in the security cabinet, Netanyahu’s inner circle of ministers.

However, Likud-Beytenu prefers MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud), a confidant of Netanyahu, for the committee chairmanship, reprising a role he filled from 2006 to 2010. Sources in the party say that Liberman’s return was always expected and that therefore no adjustments need to be made. But Yesh Atid claims that there was always an understanding to the effect that if Liberman resumed his post as foreign minister it would be at the expense of another ministerial-level position held by Yisrael-Beytenu, and not in addition to it.

Though he must, for technical reasons, resign and be reappointed to his current position, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) is set to remain in his role as Israel’s No. 2 diplomat.

Stuart Winer and Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report. 

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