Netanyahu criticized over appointment of hardliner to defence post

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced criticism Thursday for seeking to appoint hardline former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman as defence minister.

"I think that the idea to appoint Lieberman as defence minister is delusional. This step expresses a lack of responsibility toward the defence establishment and to all Israeli citizens," said Benny Begin, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, Thursday.

Exactly one year after swearing in his fourth government following March 2015 elections, Netanyahu has intensified bids to expand his coalition, which currently holds a razor-thin majority in the nation's parliament.

"The prime minister apparently prefers to exchange the difficulty of running a narrow coalition with far more severe difficulties, even dangers, that come with this bad appointment," Begin told Israel Radio.

Lieberman, who heads the hardline Israel Beiteinu faction, accepted an offer by Netanyahu to become defence minister, aides to the opposition lawmaker said late Wednesday.

The two continued negotiations Thursday on the details of the 57-year-old joining the coalition.

Lieberman's acceptance would mean that current Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, seen as a relative moderate in the otherwise hardline coalition and ruling Likud party, would be ousted from his post.

In Israel, defence ministers are often appointed based on their extensive security backgrounds and experience. Lieberman reached only the rank of corporal during his military service.

Netanyahu supporters defended the move, saying it would boost political stability.

Critics regard Lieberman as "irresponsible" and "populist" because of his outspoken belligerent language, while supporters insist he "says it as it is."

During a panel discussion last month, he said that if he were defence minister, he would give the leader of the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza an ultimatum of 24 hours to hand over bodies of soldiers killed in the 2014 war, or else "I suggest he order a grave at the cemetary."

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon argued Lieberman "should be judged according to his actions in the [defence] ministry."

With Lieberman, Netanyahu's coalition would grow from 61 to 67 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel's parliament.

Even now, the coalition of Netanhyahu's nationalist Likud, one centrist, one pro-settler and two ultra-Orthodox factions, is considered the most right-wing in Israel since the first 1996-1999 Netanyahu cabinet.

Netanyahu has been seeking to bring on board the centre-left Zionist Union list, but its leader Isaac Herzog announced late Wednesday that his negotiations with Netanyahu had failed.

The inclusion of the six-seat, far-right Israel Beiteinu party would seem to push the chance of any revival of peace talks even further away.

Last update: Thu, 19/05/2016 - 14:16

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