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Israel Parliament Approves Avigdor Liberman as Defense Minister

Avigdor Liberman, a lightning rod for international criticism, became Israel’s defense minister as part of a political deal that widens the base of Netanyahu’s fractious coalition government
30 May 2016

Jonathan Ferziger for Bloomberg reports: Parliament approved the appointment after two weeks of political upheaval in which Netanyahu dumped Moshe Ya’alon as defense minister and embarrassed opposition chief Isaac Herzog by retracting an offer to have him steer future Israeli peacemaking as foreign minister.

Liberman, 57, was born in Soviet-era Moldova, immigrated to Israel in 1978. During his tenure as a foreign minister and leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party, he put on the alert civil freedoms advocates by proposing that Israel’s Arab citizens take loyalty oaths and suggesting that the Gaza Strip’s top Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, be eliminated.

His associates portray him as a pragmatic leader, who has assumed he would leave his home in the Nokdim settlement if that is required in a peace agreement.

After taking the oath of office on the Knesset floor, Liberman promised to observe the terms he accepted in negotiations to join the coalition led by the prime minister’s Likud party, “including two states for two people.”

While it may have appeared that Netanyahu managed to bolster control of his government, Liberman still remains a political wild card, teaming up and splitting with him numerous times over a quarter of a century. Thus, it remains to be seen which direction will the administration take after Liberman’s appointment; nevertheless, the chances are that Netanyahu would, at the very least, engage in the beginning of a two-state solution process and restrain settlement expansion.

 

By Stefan Paraber for GIA.

Opinions

Israel Parliament Approves Avigdor Liberman as Defense Minister

Lieberman is likely to take on a pragmatic position and collaborate with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.  However, he is far more likely than any other Israeli minister to be flexible on the question of Israeli support for terrorists in Syria, assuming he is assured that special measures will be taken to ensure that South Syria, especially the area close to Israel, won’t be taken over by Hezbollah or Iranian forces. He is likely to be more pragmatic than people realize while at the same time trying to forge better ties with Russia. Obama as a lame duck cannot prevent Israel and Russia from forming closer ties as elections are near. If Trump gets elected, the ties can be strengthened, while if Hillary gets elected, Lieberman and Netanyahu are likely to face intense pressure on a so-called peace process. However, it remains to be seen what Lieberman will do when faced with US pressure, whether he will cave right away or whether he will find a way to maneuver. In the meantime, the fact that Russia will be returning to Israel a tank taken during a June 11, 1982, battle in Syria during which three Israeli soldiers were taken captive is a positive sign, as it would probably not be done without the approval of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In my opinion, Lieberman is willing to be very pragmatic but has zero tolerance for terrorism and wishes to have agreements based on mutual respect. Therefore, a grand bargain with Syria and Hezbollah with Russian supervision is more possible than an agreement with the Palestinians (the latter have not been proven reliable in the past, have continued to carry out terror attacks, and are not a unified stable actor). The path to such a grand bargain lies through small but steady confidence-building measures. Also, the Netanyahu government is far more stable than critics realize and is here to stay. However, US is may be placing pressure on the Israeli court system to pursue criminal investigations against Netanyahu.