Israeli parliament approves addition of hardliner to government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded in expanding his government, as the Israeli cabinet and parliament on Monday voted in favour of a hardline opposition party joining the government.

The addition of the Israel Beiteinu party of outspoken hawk Avigdor Lieberman, passed by 55 votes to 43 in the Knesset, with one abstention, hours after the cabinet unanimously approved the move, despite sudden, last-minute demands raised by another coalition member.

Immediately after the evening parliamentary vote, Lieberman controversially was sworn in as Israel's new defence minister. Another party member, Sofa Landver, was sworn in as immigrants absorption minister. 

Lieberman replaced Moshe Yaalon, who had been in the post for four years, but resigned earlier this month, as soon as he was told by Netanyahu that the premier intended to replace him. 

Yaaolon cited a lack of faith in Netanyahu and warned that "extremist and dangerous elements have taken over Israel." 

Monday's vote was the culmination of a heated parliament session, in which coalition lawmakers welcomed Lieberman's joining the government and argued a broader government would bring more stability to Israel, while opposition lawmakers slammed the move.

Lieberman walked out of the plenum, refusing to listen to Arab lawmaker Ahmed Tibi, who called him a "fascist" and "racist." 

Lieberman is known for his belligerent language, including a 2001 warning that Israel could bomb the Aswan dam over the Nile if provoked by Egypt, and a 2008 statement that if then Egyptian president Hosny Mubarak continued to refuse to visit Israel despite the cold peace between the two countries, he could "go to hell."

More recently, Lieberman has said that if he were defence minister, he would give the leader of the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza "24 hours" to hand over the bodies of Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war, or else he could "pick out his grave." 

On signing a coalition agreement with Netanyahu last week, the 57-year-old, who was in the opposition since March 2015 elections but previously served as foreign minister under Netanyahu, reassured that he would follow sensible policies with an aim of bringing stability to Israel and the region.

But the United States has expressed concern at the formation of the most right-wing government in Israel's history.

Without Lieberman's five-seat party - many of whose voters are immigrants from the former Soviet Union - Netanyahu had a government with a razor thin majority of 61 against 59 in the 120-seat Knesset.

Netanyahu has been seeking to expand his coalition, comprised already of several parties, including the pro-settler Jewish Home party of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who until the last minute threatened not to support Lieberman's appointment unless his own demands were met.

Bennett mainly demanded an improvement of briefings by the military to a forum of senior ministers, known as the security cabinet, who decide on matters of war and peace.

He has charged that Netanyahu takes key decisions on his own, turning security cabinet briefings into mere formalities. The crisis was solved early Monday. 

Last update: Mon, 30/05/2016 - 22:22

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