Israeli hard-liner returns as foreign minister
JERUSALEM (AP) — Hard-line Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman, one of Israel’s most powerful and polarizing figures, was reappointed as the country’s foreign minister Monday after being cleared of all charges in a long-running corruption case.
He re-emerges as a player at a critical time in U.S.-backed peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Known for his outspoken and critical views of the Palestinians, he is likely to further complicate an already troubled negotiating climate with the Palestinians.
Lieberman, an ally and sometime rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stepped down as foreign minister late last year when he was indicted on graft charges.
Since winning re-election in January, Netanyahu had left the post vacant for Lieberman while awaiting the verdict, which was returned Wednesday in his favor.
He had been charged with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly trying to advance the career of a former diplomat who relayed information to him about a separate criminal investigation into Lieberman’s business dealings. The court found that Lieberman had acted improperly, but not criminally.
Late Monday, Israel’s parliament approved his reappointment and he was sworn in. Netanyahu warmly hugged him after the ceremony.
Lieberman led his Yisrael Beitenu party into a merger with Netanyahu’s Likud movement before January’s election. But the alliance, meant to solidify a victory by Israel’s hardline nationalist bloc, backfired and fared poorly. Lieberman is now considering whether to dissolve the partnership.
Even if the two parties break up, Yisrael Beitenu is expected to remain in the coalition, where Lieberman can use his significant political clout to argue against concessions to the Palestinians.