Israel’s FM Vows to Quit if Indicted on Graft

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed on Monday he would step down if authorities indict him on charges of graft, as recommended by police.

If Attorney General Menahem Mazuz "decides to indict me after hearing me out, I will step down (as foreign minister) and within the next four or five months I will quit as a member of parliament," he told journalists.

The call to indict Lieberman raised the specter of disarray in the four-month-old right-wing coalition government.

But the English-language Jerusalem Post said the move would have little direct impact on Israel’s foreign relations and Middle East peace efforts because of the limited diplomatic role it said Lieberman has played.

Police on Sunday recommended indicting the 51-year-old minister on charges of bribery, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

Lieberman, a controversial minister who leads Yisrael Beitenu, the second largest party in the ruling coalition, has denied any wrongdoing and claimed the police investigation is politically motivated.

In the coming days police will submit the recommendation to Attorney General Menahem Mazuz, who will then decide whether to press charges. Lieberman will be forced to step down if the indictment goes ahead.
Graft Charges

Lieberman is suspected of receiving about $2.5 million in illegal campaign donations through bank accounts opened by his daughter in Cyprus.

"The consequences, of course, could affect the stability of the government," the Maariv newspaper commented, adding however that it remains unclear whether Lieberman would pull his party out of the coalition if indicted.

With 15 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, Yisrael Beitenu is the main coalition partner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party.

The Jerusalem Post commented that the direct impact on foreign relations would be minimal if Lieberman is indicted.

"In other words, it is not as if the negotiations going on right now with the U.S. will grind to a halt because of the police recommendation, because Lieberman was not actively involved in these talks," it said.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is on a diplomatic drive to re-launch the stalled Middle East peace process, but Netanyahu’s refusal to heed demands for a freeze of settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land has raised tensions between the two close allies to levels not seen in years.

"The Egyptians won’t deal with him, the Europeans give him a cold shoulder, he did not achieve as much as was expected during his visit to Russia, and the Americans are content dealing with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in his stead," the daily said.

( English and Agencies)

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