Avigdor Lieberman is back in action. The pugnacious right-wing leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party was acquitted of fraud charges earlier today, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed him back into the government.
“I congratulate you on the unanimous acquittal and am happy about your return to the Israeli government so we can continue working together for the good of the people of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
It marks a return to power for a man known for pushing “loyalty oaths” and plans to transfer Palestinian citizens of Israel into a new Palestinian state.
The Foreign Minister’s post has been vacant for the past ten months as Lieberman’s trial trudged along. But now that he’s been cleared of charges, he’s set to take over the Foreign Ministry once again. Lieberman, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim and is a former aide to Netanyahu, will be sworn in next week.
Lieberman has been under investigation for the past 17 years due to shady relationships with foreign businessman, one of whom allegedly gave him millions of dollars through a company run by his daughter. But he was only indicted on a much lesser charge stemming from when a diplomat gave the Foreign Minister secret documents pertaining to a police investigation into Lieberman. Lieberman promoted the diplomat, Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, to an adviser post. Aryeh was eventually forced to step down and spend four months doing community service.
While the Israeli judges unanimously ruled that Lieberman did not break the law, they did say that he acted improperly. The acquittal sparked charges that the Attorney General, bent on winning cases against corruption, failed miserably.
Lieberman’s return to power will do no wonders for Israel’s international image. The secular, Moldova-born figure who rose to power on the strength of Russian Israelis but has broadened his appeal to others is also the man who shows Israel’s ugly face.
He’s disdainful of the peace process that the U.S. is so desperately pushing. He has voiced support for measures that would force Palestinian citizens to declare their “loyalty” to the Jewish state–or else lose their citizenship status. And the solution to the conflict Lieberman desires is one that would draw the borders of a Palestinian state in such a way that Palestinian Israelis would be forced to live there.
But despite Lieberman’s brash persona, he has rose to the top of Israeli politics. Last year, Yisrael Beiteinu merged with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party ahead of Israeli elections, though it didn’t do them much good as the right-wing national religious party HaBayit HaYehudi stole some of their thunder.
Now that Lieberman’s back in power, the question is whether he will angle for the Prime Minister’s job in due time. Whatever the case, Israeli hasbara will have to kick into high-gear to get the world to see past Lieberman.