Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was acquitted of fraud and breach of trust charges, a verdict that will let him resume a job where he questioned the possibility of peace with the Palestinians.
Liberman, a key ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was indicted in December on suspicion he improperly intervened in the appointment of an ambassador who had given him confidential information about police investigations into his business activities. Today, the three-judge Jerusalem magistrate’s court cleared him unanimously.
“This chapter is behind me and I will focus my attention on the challenges that await us, and there are plenty of them,” Liberman said outside the court.
The 55-year-old politician had resigned as minister after being indicted, while remaining in parliament as head of its Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Netanyahu, who had been holding the foreign ministry portfolio since, said he phoned Liberman and welcomed him back to the Israeli cabinet, according to a text message from the prime minister’s office.
By questioning the loyalty of Israel’s Arab minority, criticizing the Palestinians and confronting Israel’s foreign critics, Liberman has become a powerful figure in Israel’s politics while sometimes rankling its allies.
Liberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement, has repeatedly voiced skepticism about reaching an accord with the Palestinians. He has called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas an “obstacle to peace,” and in September said Palestinians “have no true intent of reaching a peace agreement.”
The sides renewed U.S.-sponsored negotiations in July after a three-year breakdown. Throughout the process, the Palestinians have been critical of Israeli settlement construction on captured land they claim for a future state. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is meeting today with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to prod peace efforts, said he was confident difficulties could be “worked through.”
A senior Palestinian official said Liberman’s acquittal was further evidence that extremists control Israel’s agenda.
“This proves again that the extreme right wing coalition controls and exposes its agenda, especially at this time, and imposes facts on the ground for the Palestinian people,” Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said by phone.
Liberman is the founding head of the Yisrael Beitenu party, which draws much of its support from immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The faction ran together on a joint parliamentary list with Netanyahu’s Likud party in January elections.
Cameron Brown, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said the acquittal would have greater implications for Israeli politics than for peacemaking. Liberman, he said, wants to be Israeli prime minister one day and will line up behind peacemaking if that would help him achieve that aim, Brown said.
“Liberman is more politician than ideologue,” he said. “He knows very well how to use things to promote himself politically, and he has always seen himself as a one-day future candidate for prime minister.”
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