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Israel set to form ‘most right-wing government in history’

Benjamin Netanyahu looked set to form the most right-wing government in Israeli history

Published: Updated:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked set on Thursday to form the most right-wing government in Israeli history, with Avigdor Lieberman, a hardliner loathed by Palestinians, expected to become defence minister.

Netanyahu aides were in talks with officials of Lieberman’s hawkish Yisrael Beitenu party on terms for its entry to the ruling coalition, which would boost its currently wafer-thin majority in parliament.

Leaks to the Israeli media from both sides said a deal was close to being finalised.

Yisrael Beitenu held six of the 120 places in parliament, but following news of the coalition deal MP Orly Levi-Abekasis said on Facebook that she was quitting the party but would retain her Knesset seat, to work on social-economic issues “according to the dictates of my conscience.”

Even with five seats, Yisrael Beitenu’s entry into government would be a major boost for Netanyahu, who has not concealed his ambition to expand on the coalition’s current 61 seats.

The return of Lieberman, who served as foreign minister under Netanyahu from 2009 to 2012 and again from 2013 to 2015, could raise international concern about his government’s policies -- especially on the conflict with the Palestinians.

As defence minister, Lieberman, who himself lives in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, would oversee military operations in the Palestinian territories and have a major say in policy towards the settlements.

The international community considers the settlements illegal and regards their persistent expansion by successive Netanyahu governments as one of the biggest obstacles to peace.

Since its formation in May 2015, Lieberman had repeatedly branded the current five-party coalition as “defeatist” but on Wednesday he told a news conference that he would be open to joining it if key demands were met.

He said one of them was the death penalty for perpetrators of anti-Israeli attacks and hinted that Netanyahu’s government could accede to that demand.

Lieberman has long expressed mistrust in Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and called for his removal.

Just a month ago, he said that if he were defence minister, he would give Hamas’s Gaza leader Ismail Haniya 48 hours to hand over detained Israeli civilians and the bodies of soldiers killed in the 2014 war “or you’re dead”.

The Palestinian foreign ministry said on Thursday that should Lieberman join the government it would be good news for Israeli “settlers and ultra-extremists.”