Israeli PM, hardline legislator expand coalition

Jerusalem, May 25 (IANS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, an ultra-nationalist legislator, signed a deal on Wednesday to expand the governing coalition.

Lieberman’s party Yisrael Beytenu, or ‘Israel Our Home’, was brought in and Lieberman was offered the post of defence minister as the new political partnership was signed in parliament.

The partnership is expected to further increase Netanyahu’s slim lead in the Israeli parliament, Xinhua news agency reported.

Netanyahu vowed that his new government will “pursue peace with Palestinians”, whilst “ensuring the security of Israeli citizens”.

“My policy has not changed,” Netanyahu said.

Lieberman, known for his hardline stance on security matters, said: “We are all committed to peace with our neighbours.”

Lieberman is replacing Moshe Ya’alon, who resigned on Friday claiming that extremists have taken over Israel.

Ya’alon, considered as a strong voice of moderation in the far-right government, said he no longer trusts Netanyahu after the latter offered his post to Lieberman in a bid to expand the coalition.

Lieberman is a Jewish immigrant from Russia and many of his supporters are of Russian descent.

He secured $360 million in the deal in order to increase the pension stipends of Russian veterans.

Surprisingly however, Lieberman, known for disliking Netanyahu, expressed his willingness last week to engage in coalition talks after the prime minister had reportedly reached an agreement with the centre-left Zionist Union.

–IANS

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