The Israeli government on Thursday sought to calm tensions with the Palestinian Authority surrounding the expected appointment of Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman as defense minister and his party’s entry into the governing coalition, with an Israeli official saying that the Netanyahu-led government would continue to support the two-state solution.
“If a coalition is formed, it’s important to note that both PM [Benjamin] Netanyahu and Liberman support a solution based on two states for two peoples,” the official told The Times of Israel on Thursday. “In fact, it has historically been right-wing governments, like that of Menachem Begin, which achieved peace with our Arab neighbors like Egypt,” the official added.
Liberman has reportedly been offered and accepted the position — which would put him in control of Israel’s army as well as the military administration of the West Bank — as part of a deal to bring his Yisrael Beytenu party into the coalition.
The Palestinians reacted furiously to the news, charging that talk of including the hawkish Liberman in Netanyahu’s government “confirms the lack of a peace partner in Israel.”
The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry said the development was no surprise.
“Whoever follows daily the procedures and violations carried out by the extremist Netanyahu government against the Palestinian people, [sees] the racist, radical and violent nature of the politics of the Netanyahu government since day one. The inclusion of Liberman, known for his extreme right-wing stance toward the Palestinians, is new evidence that Netanyahu, as usual, has preferred to promote extremism in his government, which has become, as described by the Hebrew media, the most extreme government in Israel’s history,” the PA Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It stressed that this decision by Netanyahu is a response to the French, international and regional efforts to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and sends a strong message to the world that Israel “prefers extremism and to perpetuate the occupation and settlement over peace.”
A Palestinian official said Liberman as defense minister would be a “disaster” for the Palestinians.
“He will be in charge of the occupation and it will be a disaster. He is a populist — either he talks too much or he puts his words into action,” the official said, adding that the dislike of Liberman was a “unifying factor for Palestinians.”
The nationalist, firebrand lawmaker has made some harsh comments against Palestinians and Arab Israelis over the years, and has proposed legislation that was deemed racist, including a suggestion that Arab citizens take loyalty oaths lest their nationality be revoked.
In 2009, Liberman ran for Knesset under the campaign slogan “Only Liberman Understands Arabic,” and “No Citizenship without Loyalty,” underlining his tough stance with some 20 percent of the Israeli population.
That same year, the Yisrael Beytenu party platform suggested that under a potential peace deal with the Palestinians, the Triangle area in northern Israel, inhabited predominantly by Arabs, would be transferred to the Palestinian Authority.
In 2014, Yisrael Beytenu proposed using monetary incentives to encourage Arab Israelis who do not identify with the Jewish state to move to any future Palestinian state under a potential peace agreement.
Last year, Liberman sparked controversy when he suggested murder as a response to Arab Israelis who support terror.
“Those with us, should receive everything” in terms of rights, he said at the time. “Those against us, it cannot be helped, we must raise an ax and behead them — otherwise we will not survive here.”
The death penalty for terrorists is said to be one of Liberman’s key demands for joining Netanyahu’s coalition. The two are said to have agreed on a draft bill to allow the measure.
Netanyahu in 2015 ordered Likud party members to oppose a similar initiative, and then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein indicated he would intervene if the bill advanced in the Knesset.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.