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Kulanu minister resigns over coalition deal with Liberman

Avi Gabbay, who heads the Environmental Protection Ministry, says appointment of new defense minister undercuts Israel’s security

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Environment Protection Minister Avi Gabbay (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Environment Protection Minister Avi Gabbay (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay (Kulanu) on Friday announced he would resign from his post in protest of the coalition deal with Yisrael Beytenu and appointment of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister.

The “recent political steps and replacement of the defense minister are, in my view, a serious act that ignores what is best for the security of the state and will cause greater [social] polarization among the people,” Gabbay said in a statement.

“This is a line that I can’t be a partner to, and is fundamental enough in my eyes that I cannot continue to serve” in the government, he said.

Gabbay is not a member of Knesset, and was appointed to the position as an external candidate by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who has publicly supported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to expand the razor-thin coalition.

Kahlon said Friday he told the prime minister he will hold on to the environmental protection portfolio. The Kulanu party leader said Gabbay informed him of his decision on Thursday night, and in a statement thanked him for his “partnership” in helping found Kulanu.

Gabbay was set to make a statement to the press later Friday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman announce their coalition agreement, May 25, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman (left) announce their coalition agreement, May 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last Friday, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) quit the Knesset, citing a “lack of faith” in Netanyahu, after the premier offered his job to Liberman as part of the coalition negotiations.

“I regret Bogie Ya’alon’s decision,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Friday in response, referring to the defense minister by his nickname. “I think he should have continued to be a full partner in the leadership of the state, in the role of foreign minister. I wish to thank him for his years of service in the IDF and in the security establishment.

Also last week, MK Orly Levy-Abekasis quit the Yisrael Beytenu party over the coalition talks, arguing her party failed to make demands on social issues in the negotiations. Levy-Abekasis will remain in the Knesset as an independent candidate.

Netanyahu and Liberman signed the coalition agreement on Wednesday, bolstering the coalition’s 61-seat, razor-thin Knesset majority with the right-wing party’s five seats, while shrinking the opposition to 54, though Jewish Home has threatened to hold up Liberman’s appointment if demands are not met to increase intelligence sharing among ministers on security matters. Liberman’s appointment to the Defense Ministry will be brought to a Knesset plenum vote on Monday.

Netanyahu has said the addition of Liberman, a hard-liner who has referred to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a terrorist, will not affect peace efforts, addressing fears that the move will hinder diplomatic efforts with the Palestinians.

At a signing ceremony in the Knesset on Wednesday, Netanyahu pledged to pursue new “opportunities” for a peace deal with the Palestinians.

“Israel needs governmental stability if it is to cope with the challenges that await us and also in order to take advantage of the opportunities that await us,” Netanyahu, flanked by a jocular Liberman, told reporters at the ceremony. “Alongside the threats and dangers, there are also opportunities. I am committed to advancing the peace process. I’m committed to making every effort to reach an agreement.”

Along with Liberman’s appointment as defense minister, Yisrael Beytenu party member MK Sofa Landver will resume the role of immigrant absorption minister, which she previously filled between 2009 and 2015.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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