Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said Thursday that the appointment of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister is an “internal Israeli issue” and should not be questioned by Washington.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named Liberman as defense minister and welcomed lawmakers from his Yisrael Beytenu party to the ranks of his coalition after reaching a deal with the nationalist party Wednesday. Liberman will take over as defense minister next week.
In response, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday that the composition of Israel’s new right-wing coalition raises “legitimate questions” about the government’s commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
In the first response to the State Department comments by an Israeli official, Levin told Army Radio Thursday that the US has traditionally kept out of debates over the makeup of government coalitions and should continue to do so.
“Our relations with the United States are extremely close and strong, but I think that the makeup of the government is an internal Israeli issue,” Levin said. “That is how the situation has been in [Israel’s] entire history and I think we need to insist on that.”
Toner had said, “We’ve also seen reports from Israel describing it as the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history. And we also know that many of its ministers have said they opposed a two-state solution,” according to a transcript of the exchange during the daily press briefing in Washington.
“Ultimately, we’re going to judge this government based on its actions,” Toner added. “We are going to work with this government as we have worked with every Israeli government that preceded it with the goal of strengthening cooperation. And we remain steadfast in our commitment to the security of Israel and to the two-state solution.”
A spokesperson for Netanyahu declined to comment on the statements.
Liberman, who has spoken of harsh measures against Palestinian “terrorists,” sought to allay concerns over his appointment with a promise to act in a “responsible” manner while in office. At a joint press conference Wednesday with Netanyahu, he pledged his commitment to “peace and to a final status agreement, and to understanding between us and our neighbors.” Those remarks were plainly directed at critics, at home and abroad, of the coalition’s hawkish nature.
Netanyahu has continued to insist that he wants to negotiate peace with the Palestinians, saying Wednesday: “My government remains committed to pursuing peace with the Palestinians and with all our neighbors. My policy has not changed. We will pursue every avenue for peace while ensuring the safety and security of our citizens.”
JTA and AFP contributed to this report.