Netanyahu joins forces with ultra-nationalist to expand Israel gov’t

Netanyahu joins forces with ultra-nationalist to expand Israel gov’t

JERUSALEM – Agence France-Presse
Netanyahu joins forces with ultra-nationalist to expand Israel gov’t Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined forces on May 25 with a hardline nationalist party to expand his coalition, forming what is being called the most right-wing government in the nation’s history.

Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party will add five lawmakers to Netanyahu’s previously wafer-thin majority if the deal is given parliamentary approval as expected.

Lieberman, who has spoken of harsh measures against Palestinian “terrorists,” will take over the key role of defense minister after being sworn in.

The two men, who have in the past been bitter rivals, announced the deal at a ceremony at parliament, with Lieberman pledging to be “balanced” and saying he was committed to “responsible, reasonable policy.” 

Netanyahu said that “we are joining hands now to march Israel forward.” 

The move to hand the defense 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 Likud party colleagues.

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

Moshe Yaalon, a Likud member who resigned as defense minister on May 20 and who has also served as armed forces chief, warned of a rising tide of extremism in the party and the country as a whole.

Former Labor Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak went further, saying Israel’s government “has been infected by the shoots of fascism.” 

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.

The deal 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 instead.

Besides Lieberman becoming defense minister and another member of his party becoming immigrant absorption minister, the government agreed to allocate approximately 1.4 billion shekels ($363 million, 325 million euros) to pensions of elderly Israelis.