Netanyahu Broadens the Coalition, Appoints New Defense Minister

Israelis woke up to a new political reality Thursday morning, and many are wondering what that will mean.

After months of criticizing the government from the opposition, Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our Home) chairman Avigdor Lieberman is bringing his six-member party into the coalition.

The move comes as pressure is mounting on Israel to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo Wednesday, garnering support from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. And France is pushing for an international conference to force a solution of the conflict on Israel.

Expanding the government will give Netanyahu more room to maneuver. Taking on Lieberman moves the government to the right instead of the left, but it means making room for him by giving him ministerial posts in the government.

Lieberman will replace Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a decision that seems – at least on the surface – to defy logic. Ya’alon, a career officer and former IDF chief of staff, has infinitely more military experience and has worked well with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the most part.

Following weeks of closed-door meetings with Labor Party chairman and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Netanyahu instead closed the deal with Lieberman late Wednesday night.

While details have yet to be finalized, most agree that bolstering the razor-thin 61-member coalition to a more stable 67 is a plus in more ways than one. The narrow coalition makes it difficult for ministers to travel abroad to meet with their international counterparts and stymies efforts to pass new legislation.

Herzog, meanwhile, berated by many members of his party for even considering joining a unity government, vowed to dismember the coalition from the opposition, something most parliamentarians view as highly unlikely.

Speaking with journalists Wednesday, Hebrew University Prof. Avraham Diskin took exception to the idea that the newly formed coalition would be the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, a statement attributed to Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) chairman Naftali Bennett.

Diskin reminded journalists that Lieberman has positioned himself with left and center-left parties in the past.

“He cooperated with [former Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert, who at the end of his term, gave the most generous proposal ever to the Palestinians,” Diskin said, noting that Lieberman thinks of himself as “a very pragmatic person.”

With regard to Herzog, Diskin said, “The Labor Party has a bad habit of executing its leaders,” evidenced by its recent history of changing chairman with some frequency.

With increasing pressure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, meet the security challenges on the northern and southern borders, combat the anti-Israel epithets from Europe and elsewhere, and foil the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists seeking to disenfranchise and delegitimize Israel’s existence, the government must make wise use of its resources.

Lieberman, known for his less-than-diplomatic statements at times, may be just what’s needed.

While serving as foreign minister, he said P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas was “encouraging a culture of hatred, praising terrorists, encouraging sanctions and boycotts, and calling into question the legitimacy of the existence of the state….”

Today’s challenges are no less critical than those faced by the Jewish nation-state since its reestablishment in 1948. Cabinet ministers and parliamentarians must work together to make the tough decisions facing Israel militarily, economically, and in every other sphere. It’s a daunting task.

This article originally appeared on CBN News, May 19, 2016, and reposted with permission.