Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Wednesday acquittal of charges of breach of trust and fraud paves the way for him to return to the government, which may well significantly impact any diplomatic moves Israel seeks to make.
A source close to Lieberman said the former minister's "position regarding negotiations with Abbas is clear: He doesn't believe an agreement is possible, and he doesn't believe in the Palestinian Authority's abilities."
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Lieberman has generally stayed away from the Palestinian issue, but has made several remarks against the Palestinian Authority, which raised concern in the world. The current assessment is that he will not keep silent on the matter of negotiations, but will not actively destroy talks, out of respect for Israel's ties with the US.
Either way, a return to the foreign ministry will give Lieberman an important voice in Israeli discussions on the talks. Although Netanyahu ultimately makes the final decisions, Lieberman could potentially make things difficult for the prime minister.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lieberman have held a meeting on Tuesday in preparation for Lieberman's possible return to Israeli politics, and discussed, among other issues, the renewed peace talks.
An Israeli official said Netanyahu would ask his Cabinet on Sunday to approve Lieberman's re-appointment as foreign minister. The parliament would then vote on it, possibly as soon as Monday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because Netanyahu has not spoken publicly on the matter.
Lieberman's verdict on Wednesday coincided with a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in the region trying to revive faltering peace talks.
He has questioned the loyalty of Israel's Arab minority, expressed doubt about the Palestinians' commitment to peace and confronted Israel's foreign critics. The tough-talking message has at times alienated Israel's allies while also making him an influential voice at home.
During his stint as foreign minister, he pushed a series of legislative proposals that critics said were discriminatory against Israel's Arab minority, including a failed attempt to require Israelis to sign a loyalty oath or have their citizenship revoked.
He also embarrassed Netanyahu by expressing contrary views to the government, including his skepticism over the odds of reaching peace with the Palestinians.
Avraham Diskin, a political scientist at the Hebrew University, said Lieberman is "skeptical and doesn't believe" in a peace agreement. "But I don't think the negotiations will stop because of it."
He said Netanyahu always has the option of reaching out to the moderate opposition if there is progress in the peace efforts.
With those negotiations making no tangible progress, however, Lieberman has little incentive to abandon Netanyahu. Many analysts believe he is in fact positioning himself to be a future prime minister whenever Netanyahu, 64, steps down.
At the same time, Lieberman has sometimes shown signs of pragmatism. For instance, he has said he would support dismantling some Jewish settlements, including the one where he lives, under his plan to redraw borders.
Yehuda Ben-Meir, a political analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies and former deputy foreign minister, said Lieberman may show surprising leniency regarding peace negotiations.
"The accepted opinion is that he's very hawkish and he will try to disrupt and prevent an agreement," said Ben-Meir. "But from someone who knows him personally ... Lieberman could surprise."
AP, Reuters contributed to this story
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