Veteran Likud MK blasts Liberman’s ‘stupid’ supporters
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Veteran Likud MK blasts Liberman’s ‘stupid’ supporters

Benny Begin says he’s amazed incoming defense minister, who supports a 2-state solution, is considered ‘kosher’ by part of the right

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

Likud party MK Benny Begin arrives for a faction meeting at the Knesset, May 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Likud party MK Benny Begin arrives for a faction meeting at the Knesset, May 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Veteran Likud lawmaker Benny Begin on Tuesday took a swipe at “stupid” members of the right who expressed satisfaction at the resignation of defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and his replacement with Avigdor Liberman.

The Knesset approved Liberman’s appointment during a vote Monday night. Of the 99 lawmakers present in the plenum, 55 voted in favor and 43 against, with Begin breaking party lines to abstain.

Begin told Army Radio he was amazed at the response to Ya’alon’s decision to leave politics after Netanyahu gave his ministry to Liberman in a coalition-building agreement to bring Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu into the government.

“I was puzzled to see the gaiety and joy on the right when Ya’alon resigned,” he said. “It seems there are three types of right wing: moderate, extremist, and stupid.”

Newly appointed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman alongside IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott during a ceremony welcoming him to the ministry, May 31, 2016. (Ariel Harmoni/Ministry of Defense)
Newly appointed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman alongside IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott during a ceremony welcoming him to the ministry, May 31, 2016. (Ariel Harmoni/Ministry of Defense)

Begin, who has openly opposed Liberman’s appointment, noted that whereas Ya’alon, who opposed a two-state solution with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future, was aligned with the official Likud party stance, Liberman supported the idea.

“The idea [of a two-state solution] is not acceptable to the Likud party in the Knesset and not by the government that he leads,” he said of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset, October 12, 2015. To his left stands Moshe Ya'alon, behind him Avigdor Liberman (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset, October 12, 2015. To his left stands Moshe Ya’alon, behind him Avigdor Liberman (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“A man [Ya’alon] who was completely committed to opposing a PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] or Hamas state, or who knows what afterwards, in the West Bank, is not acceptable to them, while a man [Liberman] who is committed to that… is strictly kosher?” Begin added.

He warned that, based on statements Liberman made while sitting in the opposition, he expected the defense minister to seek policies that are “not considerate, not careful, not responsible, and not moderate.”

Still, he added, he’d be happy to see Liberman enact “moderate” policies, even if it meant that the defense minister would be diverging from the pugnacious statements he has become known for.

Avigdor Liberman being sworn in as defense minister after the Knesset approved his appointment, May 30, 2016. (Knesset Spokesman's department)
Avigdor Liberman being sworn in as defense minister after the Knesset approved his appointment, May 30, 2016. (Knesset Spokesman’s department)

Along with Liberman, the Knesset also approved the appointment of Yisrael Beytenu’s Sofa Landver as immigrant absorption minister and Likud member Tzachi Hanegbi as a minister without portfolio.

Begin revealed that two weeks ago Netanyahu offered him a ministership without portfolio, but he turned it down, believing that the “conditions” of the cabinet would not enable him to contribute enough.

“I felt it was not effective for me to sit at the cabinet table,” he said.

The addition of Yisrael Beytenu gives the governing coalition 66 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, bolstering its previously paper-thin majority of just 61-59. The party won six seats in the 2015 elections, but following the deal to join the coalition, MK Orly Levy-Abekasis announced she was leaving the party to serve as an independent lawmaker.

Politicians and pundits reacted with unease and disdain when the decision to appoint Liberman was first announced nearly two weeks ago, warning that giving the Defense Ministry to the firebrand politician was a dangerous move.

In a possible effort to assuage such fears, Liberman touted his pro-peace credentials in a Knesset address after Monday’s vote, hailing a recent speech by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi urging Israelis and Palestinians to return to talks as “a real opportunity.”

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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