Thursday, May 19, 2016

 

Israeli PM asks Avigdor Lieberman to be defence minister in shock move

Binyamin Netanyahu makes U-turn to offer hard-right politician key cabinet job after first pursuing deal with centrists.

One of Israel’s most outspokenly hawkish and divisive political figures, the ultranationalist politician Avigdor Lieberman, has been offered the post of defence minister.

Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer from Moldova with little military experience, has advocated for policies including the bombing of Egypt’s Aswan dam, the toppling of the Palestinian Authority, the introduction of the death penalty for terrorism as well as the transfer of Israeli Arabs into the Palestinian territories.

While the appointment is subject to coalition negotiations – and could theoretically fall through – by Thursday morning an agreement seemed increasingly likely, and it could come as early as Thursday evening.

The prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is attempting to enlarge his precarious coalition, which has a majority of one. Initially he offered a deal to the centrist Zionist Union, headed by Isaac Herzog, then he reversed course with his offer to Lieberman and his hard-right Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Some Israeli reports suggested Tony Blair had been among figures trying to intercede in a deal to bring Herzog into the coalition. For his part, Herzog said Netanyahu was faced with “a historic choice” to “either embark on a journey of war and funerals” with Lieberman or choose a path of “hope for all [Israeli] citizens”.

With Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts in a deep freeze, Lieberman’s addition to the government would push any hopes of reviving talks further into the distance. Netanyahu is already facing criticism from his closest allies, the US and key European countries for not doing more to revive talks.

The appointment would be all the more bizarre given that only a month ago Netanyahu described Lieberman as a lazy amateur and “a petty prattler” who was not fit to be a military analyst.

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