Israel forms 'most right-wing government' in state's history

Israel forms 'most right-wing government' in state's history
Video: Israel has reached a deal with the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party to join the government - with ultra-hawk Avigdor Lieberman becoming defence minister.
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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has reached a deal with a hardline nationalist party to join his government, negotiators said on Wednesday, to form what is being called the most right-wing government in the country's history.

Under the agreement, Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party will join Netanyahu's coalition, adding five lawmakers to his previously wafer-thin parliamentary majority.

The hawkish Lieberman, who has spoken of harsh measures against Palestinian "terrorists", is to take over the key role of defence minister.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, a negotiator for Netanyahu's Likud party, told public radio the deal had been reached, while Lieberman's spokesman also confirmed the agreement.

A spokesman for Lieberman, a longtime politician who has previously served as foreign minister and lives in a settlement in the occupied West Bank deemed illegal under international law, said the deal would be signed in parliament on Wednesday.

The move to hand the defence ministry to the 57-year-old hardliner has sparked deep concern among Israeli centrist and left-wing politicians, as well as among some of Netanyahu's centre-right Likud colleagues.

Religious nationalists from the Jewish Home party already hold key cabinet positions in Netanyahu's government.

Ehud Barak went even further, saying Israel's government 'has been infected by the shoots of fascism'

Moshe Yaalon, a Likud member who resigned as defence minister on Friday and who has also served as armed forces chief, warned of a rising tide of extremism in his party and the country as a whole.

Former Labour prime minister and defence minister Ehud Barak went even further, saying Israel's government "has been infected by the shoots of fascism".

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But others say that Lieberman is above all a pragmatic politician who aspires to be prime minister one day, noting also that he will face opposition from the security establishment if he seeks to carry out some of his most controversial ideas.

An example of his provocative style was recently on display in comments directed at Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip.

Lieberman said he would give Haniyeh 48 hours to hand over two detained Israeli civilians and the bodies of soldiers killed in a 2014 war - "or you're dead".

He has previously compared Arab members of Israel's parliament to Nazi collaborators. "The heads of the Nazi regime, along with their collaborators, were executed," he said in 2006. "I hope this will be the fate of the collaborators in [the Knesset]."

In 2001, the former nightclub bouncer advocated bombing the Aswan Dam in Egypt, accusing Israel's Arab neighbour of supporting a Palestinian uprising.

As transport minister, he offered buses to transport 350 Palestinian prisoners to the Dead Sea, where he suggested they should be drowned.

The deal to include Lieberman in government brings to a stunning conclusion weeks of speculation over Netanyahu's efforts to expand his government, which has held only 61 of the 120 seats in parliament since elections in March 2015.

Netanyahu had earlier engaged in negotiations with Labor party leader Isaac Herzog to join the government, before turning to Lieberman.

Besides Lieberman becoming defence minister and another member of his party becoming immigrant absorption minister, the government agreed to allocate approximately 1.4 billion shekels ($363 million) to pensions of elderly Israelis.

Lieberman, born in what was then the Soviet republic of Moldova, sought the arrangement to benefit immigrants from the former Soviet Union, his main electoral support base.

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"These are... major issues that are important to our constituency, and are significant achievements," Lieberman's spokesman told AFP.

He had also pushed for the government to institute the death penalty for Palestinian "terrorists", but Lieberman reportedly backed down from the demand during talks over his position.

A watered-down version of Lieberman's plan is thought to have been agreed upon, though analysts say it is unlikely to significantly change current shoot-to-kill policy. There have been no court-ordered judicial executions in Israel since 1962.

Netanyahu has sought to ease fears over Lieberman's appointment, saying he would "continue to seek peace" with the Palestinians and oversee the defence ministry's policies, which include control over most of the occupied West Bank.

Negotiations with the Palestinians have been at a complete standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.