Israel's Netanyahu loses powerful ally to resignation

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks at conference for young members of his Yisrael Beiteinu party in Tel Aviv, in this December 13, 2012 file picture. Lieberman said on Friday he was resigning after being charged with fraud and breach of trust, in a move that could have repercussions on the upcoming general election. Picture taken December 13, 2012. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/Files (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS)
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks at conference for young members of his Yisrael Beiteinu party in Tel Aviv, in this December 13, 2012 file picture. Lieberman said on Friday he was resigning after being charged with fraud and breach of trust, in a move that could have repercussions on the upcoming general election. Picture taken December 13, 2012. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/Files (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS)
Photo by REUTERS
| Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, 6:54 p.m.

JERUSALEM — The resignation of powerful Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Benjamin Netanyahu's top Cabinet partner, has shaken up Israeli politics a month before elections. Analysts said that Netanyahu is likely to survive but is losing a valued ally.

Lieberman announced his resignation Friday, a day after the attorney general filed an indictment for breach of trust in a fraud and money-laundering case.

He insisted “I did not break any law” and voiced confidence he would be cleared before the Jan. 22 election.

Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu and Netanyahu's Likud Party recently joined forces in the parliamentary election, enabling the charismatic ultranationalist to position himself as Netanyahu's heir.

Opinion polls have predicted the list would be by far the largest bloc in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, and would lead a new coalition government. But without Lieberman's sway, negotiations for such a coalition among an array of fractious parties will be more complicated.

The blunt-talking politician, a native of Moldova, has amassed power with support from immigrants from the former Soviet Union and others drawn to his broadsides against Israeli Arabs, dovish groups, the Palestinians and Western Europe.

His resignation could mean that Netanyahu would be stuck with a list of leftovers.

Lieberman spokesman Tzachi Moshe said the minister is not resigning from the party list, meaning he is still running for parliament.

Avraham Diskin, a political scientist at Hebrew University, said that Netanyahu is likely to be re-elected and might make himself foreign minister too. But Lieberman's absence might push voters to parties even farther to the right.

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