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Likud and Yisrael Beytenu sign coalition agreement

Deal caps marathon talks on immigrant pensions and confirms Liberman as defense minister; Sofa Landver to head immigration

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman shake hands after signing a coalition agreement in the Knesset on Wednesday, May 25, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman shake hands after signing a coalition agreement in the Knesset on Wednesday, May 25, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Negotiators for Likud and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu parties reached an agreement overnight Tuesday that will bring Beytenu into the coalition and name him defense minister, officials in both parties confirmed.

A signing ceremony took place at 11 a.m. Wednesday, with Liberman expected to be sworn in as a minister early next week.

A Yisrael Beytenu source said that the party’s demands were met, including a minimum increase of NIS 1.4 billion ($360 million) for pensions — a sticking point in the negotiations earlier this week — as well as another NIS 150 million toward public housing, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

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

Yisrael Beytenu chief negotiator Moshe Lion said that Liberman’s “achievements” in the negotiations were significant in relation to the size of his party, which will be bolstering the coalition’s 61-seat, razor-thin Knesset majority with five seats, while shrinking the opposition to 54.

Lion told Army Radio that some of the finer details of pension funding were yet to be finalized. He said the party hoped to secure an increase of several hundred shekels a month for immigrant retirees who hadn’t been able to work long enough in Israel to accrue reasonably sized pension funds. The pension increase will be applied to all elderly immigrants — not only those who hailed from the former Soviet Union, as Yisrael Beytenu had initially demanded.

Liberman will officially take over the Defense Ministry next Tuesday, after his appointment will go up for a vote in the Knesset.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset during a special plenum session marking Herzl Day on May 23, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset during a special plenum session marking Herzl Day on May 23, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu, Liberman, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin — Likud’s chief negotiator — met late Tuesday night and into Wednesday along with other negotiators to resolve the sticking points.

A Likud source told Israeli media late Tuesday that Liberman “wanted to close the deal and showed flexibility toward Kahlon’s demands on the pension reform issue.”

The Kahlon-led Finance Ministry had initially balked at Liberman’s demand for pension infusions, noting the high price tag and the legal and ethical problems that arise when welfare benefits are applied based on place of birth.

The issue is critical for Yisrael Beytenu, for which elderly Russian-speaking Israelis are a core constituency. Most of the approximately 78,000 elderly immigrant poor in the country hail from the FSU, in part because many of those immigrants arrived in Israel without pensions and were too old to save up for new pensions in Israel.

Liberman’s presumptive move into the Defense Ministry shook the Israeli political arena when it was announced last week, as the then-incumbent defense minister Moshe Ya’alon from the Likud party was effectively ousted from his post.

Ya’alon promptly resigned from politics, citing a “lack of trust” in the prime minister.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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