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Palestinians: With Liberman, Israel threatens regional stability

Saeb Erekat warns defense appointment will lead to ‘apartheid, racism and religious and political extremism’

Avigdor Liberman, the head of Yisrael Beytenu party, during a ceremony in which he signed a coalition agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on May 25, 2016, at the Knesset in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Avigdor Liberman, the head of Yisrael Beytenu party, during a ceremony in which he signed a coalition agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on May 25, 2016, at the Knesset in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The appointment of hardliner Avigdor Liberman as Israel’s defense minister represents a “real threat” to regional stability, a senior Palestinian official said on Wednesday.

“The existence of this government brings a real threat of instability and extremism in the region,” Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP, adding that the appointment would “result in apartheid, racism and religious and political extremism.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed on Wednesday that Liberman, who heads the Yisrael Beytenu party, would take over as defense minister, in which capacity he is responsible for implementing Israel’s West Bank policies.

Liberman’s presumptive move into the Defense Ministry — an appointment that has yet to be approved by the Knesset — shook the Israeli political arena when it was announced last week. The then-incumbent defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, who went on to resign from politics citing a “lack of trust” in the prime minister, was effectively ousted from his post.

The appointment has prompted criticism that the Netanyahu government is drifting further to the right, with Liberman favoring the death penalty for Palestinian terrorists as well as mandatory loyalty oaths to the Jewish state, in what has been described as a bid to curtail the political rights of Arab Israelis.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat speakes during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 04, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, May 4, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

However, during a signing ceremony Wednesday, he pledged himself to what he termed a “balanced policy that will bring stability to the region and to our country.”

Netanyahu meanwhile, countered claims that his government was moving to the right by asserting that it would 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.”

Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip and which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, also condemned Lieberman’s appointment.

“The choice of Liberman represents an increase in the racism and extremism of the Israeli occupation,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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