It is five weeks until Israel's general election and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has resigned from his post
. He is being faced with charges of a breach of trust, charges which he is adamantly denying. They include, but are not limited to, money laundering and bribery. Scandalous stuff if found to be true, however prosecutors pursuing the case have had to close it due to lack of evidence. Lieberman's stated reasoning in light of these facts, and his pronouncements that the charges represent little more than a “witch hunt”, for stepping down and not using his parliamentary immunity is that he is “convinced that Israel's citizens should be able to go to the polls after this matter has been settled... and I can continue to serve the state of Israel and Israel's citizens as part of a strong and united leadership.”
Interestingly similar allegations were made around the time of the 2009 Israeli elections. Lieberman contended back then that the police were conspiring against him. The investigations concern Lieberman receiving money from unknown sources outside of Israel whilst serving as a member of the Knesset. Receiving payment that exceeds ones salary is illegal if one is serving as a member of Knesset.
Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party represents the second largest political party in the Likud coalition government currently presided over by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. These current charges have in them the potential to evolve into a serious political scandal and therefore represent an apt time to cross examine Mr. Lieberman, his career up until this point, his stated political goals and his character in general.
Lieberman and his party are well known for holding hawkish views when it comes to solutions on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just last September
Ehud Barak criticized Lieberman's contention that the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was an obstacle to peace. Barak contended that these comments do not represent the policy of the Israeli state and serve to harm that states interests. Barak contended that if Abbas didn't run the West Bank as he does at present “as Lieberman fantasizes, then Hamas will.” These comments followed Lieberman's stated view that Abbas's speech calling for Palestinian recognition at the U.N was in essence an “incitement in line with Iran and Hamas.”
However on that occasion Lieberman supported Barak's plan for the formation of a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank. 90% of the Israeli settlers living in the West Bank reside in the settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Maaleh Adumim and Ariel. Barak contended these remain in place along with strategic points across the Jordan Valley. Other small settlements however would be evacuated leaving a substantial amount of Palestinians territory to form a state.
Yisrael Beitenu for quite some time has been calling for land swaps and a two-state solution. In the plan named after him, also known as the “Populated Area Exchange Plan” drafted in 2004 Lieberman suggested an exchange of areas populated by both Jews and Arabs carried out by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He contended that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a tough nut to crack since not only is it a religious conflict, but also one of a nationalistic nature. He believes that through the separation of both peoples conflict and violence would be considerably reduced.
His party has in recent memory carried the slogan of “no loyalty, no citizenship” and his proposal of population exchanges has generally been opposed by both the Palestinian-Arabs and the Arab-Israelis. The latter dubbing it racist
. Whilst they would be under no obligation to leave if the plan was put into fruition they feel singled out by the general language and premise behind the idea and would certainly not wish to leave their homes in Israel to live in a future Palestinian state located on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It's an interesting note of character that Lieberman himself lives with his family in the Israeli settlement of Nokdim which is in the Judean Desert in the West Bank. He has since 1988 and has expressed willingness to leave if an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord is reached via a two-state solution.
Lieberman is a hard man to characterize. 'Far-right' and 'ultra-nationalist' are often terms used in an interchangeable manner to try and do so. Whilst he certainly isn't a leftist or a liberal and espouses Revisionist Zionist ideals that were pioneered by Zev Jabotinsky, Menachem Begin's mentor and friend. He is also perceived to be to the right of Netanyahu's Likud party. To make this even more confusing he, unlike Begin, has called for and proposed the succession of currently disputed territory to the Palestinians. Something that Begin, who was adamant in his indefatigable stance when it came to remaining steadfast and staunch in his relentlessness to make no compromise of any Palestinian territory, saw as representing parts of an incomplete Jewish state and would therefore never compromise.
Whilst remaining consistently hawkish in his foreign policy views, vis-a-vie Israel's engagements against the Hamas militia in Gaza and his views regarding Iran's true intentions when it comes to its nuclear program, the practicality of some of his statements and stances have been of questionable value. For instance his severing of ties with the intelligence agency Mossad and his adulation of Russian Prime Minister of Vladimir Putin are both concerning developments. Along with this, he has in the past made very reactionary remarks regarding Israel's capability to bomb the Egyptian Answan Dam along with once flippantly suggesting that Palestinian prisoners, amongst them several members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, be drowned “in the Dead Sea if possible, since that's the lowest point in the world."
Lieberman has been around for some time, he's garnered a substantial amount of controversy for various contentions and pronouncements and is bound as a result to continue to be a polarizing figure in Israeli politics. However to what extent he will bear much influence on the country's outlook and its decision making within the near future is certainly hard to gauge and determine at this time. Nevertheless he is a case that warrants following, especially in these coming weeks.