Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Thursday charged Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman with fraud and breach of trust in the 2009 case involving the former ambassador to Belarus, but dropped more serious allegations against him, prompting many in Israel to wonder if the indictment will in fact lead to a resignation.
"I decided to proceed with a case against Lieberman for having suggested in December 2009 that the government name the former ambassador to Belarus to a post in another country, despite the fact that -- according to the evidence presented -- he knew that he had done wrong in passing along secret information, including details of a police enquiry against Lieberman," he said.
The decision closes a case that included explosive allegations of fraud, money-laundering and witness tampering. Lieberman has always proclaimed his innocence of all the allegations against him.
Lieberman responded to the indictment, saying, "The investigation against me has been going on for sixteen years. From July 1996 there has not been one day when I was not questioned, suspected or was an intelligence target."
While the closing of the main case against him is something of a victory for Lieberman, who leads the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, he still faces enormous pressure to resign over the charges, ahead of the January 22nd elections.
The announcement prompted immediate opposition calls for Lieberman's resignation, but Lieberman's lawyers played down the charges, saying ministers charged with similar offenses in the past had not stepped down.
Weinstein made no specific recommendation on whether Lieberman should resign, and local media said the legal precedent was unclear.
It is also important to note, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pointed out, that Lieberman has only been indicted and has not yet been convicted. "I believe in the legal system in Israel and respect it," said Netanyahu. "The right it gives to every citizen in Israel to defend one's self is also granted to Minister Lieberman."
Shortly after Weinstein's announcement, Tzipi Livni's party issued a statement saying Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should force Lieberman's resignation.
"HaTnua calls on the prime minister to act according to the legal norms observed in Israel under which ministers who have been indicted immediately resign from the government," the statement said. "This is what is also expected from Lieberman."
The left leaning Meretz party also said it will go to court in a bid to force the foreign minister to step aside.
The Labor party even criticized the Attorney General's decision to drop the more serious charges against Lieberman, saying it was a blow to democracy and that it showed weakness by the attorney general, the police who should be investigating the matter and the officials who hold a responsibility to the public to prosecute such crimes.
"The criminal offenses attributed to him are very serious, and his behavior both from a criminal and a moral and public standpoint risks endangering Israeli democracy and the rule of law," the party stated.
MK Aryeh Eldad, Chairman of Otzma LeYisrael, also responded to the decision, saying that these kinds of indictments will lead to the downfall of Israel, hinting that Lieberman's failure to prevent the PA from recieving upgraded status and his lack of vocal opposition to the bid might be related to the corruption charges.
"Lieberman escaped serious charges because the prosecution only held him by circumstantial evidence. Sharon's Greek island affair taught us that criminal allegations against public figures can have crucial ramifications for Israel. We will never be able to know if the sudden change of Lieberman's ambiguous policy regarding the Palestinian state stems from real political concerns or if it is was said at the time due to pressure and blackmail from those who hold real evidence and not just circumstantial evidence against him. Corruption may very well be an existential threat to Israel," said Eldad.
In the past, Lieberman had suggested he would resign if the main case against him went ahead, but with that case closed and elections a little over a month away, it was unclear if he would choose to step down.