Israel defence minister resigns, Netanyahu ‘regrets’

Jerusalem, May 20 (IANS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that he “regrets” the resignation of Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, amidst a move to replace the latter with an ultra-nationalist politician to enlarge his coalition.

On Friday, Ya’alon announced he had decided to leave the government to take time out of political life, citing “lack of confidence” in Netanyahu.

In a live broadcasted statement, he said the ruling Likud party was taken over by “extremist and dangerous elements” after Netanyahu reportedly decided to replace him with the hawkish Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beytenu (“Israel Our Home”) party.

Netanyahu released a counter-statement, saying he “regrets” the resignation.

“I think he should continue being a full partner in the country’s leadership by heading the foreign ministry,” he said in a video statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office.

“I greatly appreciate the work we did together, day and night, for the security of Israel,” he added.

He said the proposed change in the distribution of portfolios “was not due to a crisis of confidence between us, but due to the need to expand the coalition in order to bring stability to the government so we can tackle challenges ahead”.

Ya’alon’s leaving was widely perceived as a loss of a voice of moderation in Netanyahu’s right-wing cabinet, which includes the Likud ruling party, the far-right Jewish home faction, and Jewish ultra-Orthodox parties.

Netanyahu and Lieberman’s factions were in intensive negotiations on Thursday to finalize the details of the deal, which would pave the way for Lieberman’s party into the cabinet, expanding the coalition government from 61 to 67 in the 120-member parliament.

Lieberman demanded the defence ministry portfolio from Netanyahu in order to join his coalition, as well as promoting a law that would seek death penalties to Palestinian attackers of Israelis.

Ya’alon, considered a moderate member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, slammed Netanyahu’s “loss of moral compass on basic ethical questions” on Thursday.

Ya’alon and Netanyahu have had disagreements recently, with the former taking a more moderate tone regarding the military conduct amid a wave of unrest between Israelis and Palestinians, which claimed the lives of at least 203 Palestinians and 28 Israelis, whereas Netanyahu and the far-right Jewish Home party from his coalition have adopted a more hawkish approach.

–IANS

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