With the inclusion of Yisrael Beitenu (Our Home is Israel) in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition and the appointment of party leader Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister, critics were swift to label the new government Israel’s most right wing ever.
Even the US State Department, in rare commentary on an ally’s internal politics, expressed concerns when spokesman Mark Toner said Lieberman’s appointment “raises legitimate questions about the direction it may be headed in and what kind of policies it may adopt.”
Lieberman, who formerly served as Israel’s foreign minister, is known for his hawkish rhetoric, once threatening to bomb Egypt’s Aswan Dam and calling for the assassination of Hamas leaders in Gaza.
But fears that his appointment throws Israel to the brink of conflict with its Arab neighbors may be overstated. Israel Harel, a columnist for Israel’s left-wing newspaper Haaretz, was unfazed.
“I have a suggestion for everyone shocked by Avigdor Lieberman’s expected appointment as defense minister: Don’t rush to prepare and stock (the bomb shelters). Lieberman, like Menachem Begin in 1977, won’t lead Israel into a war; quite the opposite. He’ll want to prove that, contrary to his reputation, he’s a judicious and pragmatic man,” Harel wrote.
Lieberman has advocated giving up portions of the West Bank in the context of a peace deal. The Lieberman Plan suggests redrawing the border in order to create two homogenous states, separating Arabs and Jews, but without forcibly removing residents or transferring populations.
Lieberman promised on Wednesday to act in a “responsible” manner while in office. During a joint news conference with Netanyahu, he directed remarks at his critics.
“We have a commitment, a strong commitment, to peace and to a final status agreement, and to understanding between us and our neighbors,” Lieberman said.
However, Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah, unimpressed with these statements, said actions were more important than words.
“Israel should learn the true lesson from making peace because there can be no peace and no stability in the region unless the Palestinian cause is resolved,” he said.
Allaying concerns, Netanyahu said a stable Israeli government will help “seize new opportunities.”
“My government remains committed to pursuing peace with the Palestinians and with all our neighbors. My policy has not changed,” he said. “We will pursue every avenue for peace while ensuring the safety and security of our citizens.”
Click on the video below to watch Netanyahu and Lieberman addressing the international press.