In a surprising move last week Avigdor Lieberman, Head of the Yisrael Beitanu Party, held a press conference and announced his terms for joining the Netanyahu Likud coalition. Surprising, since Lieberman has been attacking and criticizing Netanyahu at every turn. But, that’s politics. The possible trigger for his decision was the talks between Netanyahu and Benjamin ‘Buji’ Herzog, Leader of the Labor Party (now called the Zionist Union), about the possibility of Labor joining the coalition. So Lieberman jumped first, and Netanyahu accepted his conditions to join, namely that Lieberman be named Defense Minister, and that several other of his Party colleagues get ministries.
This appointment is controversial, since Lieberman has never served in the Army and he is replacing the incumbent Defense Minister Moshe ‘Boogie’ Ya’alon, who is a former General and well-liked by the Army. Lieberman is more right wing than Ya’alon and will make this coalition the most right wing government in Israel’s history. But, Netanyahu recently had a spat with Ya’alon over two issues, first his support for the Deputy Chief of Staff of the IDF Gen. Yair Golan, who had made a very controversial statement at the Holocaust Memorial commemoration on Yom Hashoah, stating that in some ways the current status of Israel resembles pre-WWII Germany. This shocked many Holocaust survivors and caused Netanyahu to angrily reject his comments. But, Ya’alon not only supported Golan, he then issued a blanket statement saying that all IDF officers should feel free to express their opinions, that is contrary to Government policy.
Also, Ya’alon shocked many by rushing to judgement in the case of the soldier who shot an already neutralized terrorist who was lying on the ground bleeding. The result should have been left to a military court, but Ya’alon waded into the controversy by stating that the soldier should not have acted as he did, and in taking this “moral” stand he antagonized a large part of the Likud Party that felt the soldier acted within his remit.
Now Ya’alon has resigned, as Defense Minister and from his seat in the Knesset, but is going to continue in politics and probably will set up his own centrist party. It was rumored that he would be given the Foreign Ministry portfolio, which Netanyahu has been holding himself for the past year, but he rejected that and made a very anti-Netanyahu speech. So the winners in this shuffle are Netanyahu, who expands his coalition from 61 to 67, and Lieberman who gets back into office, and the losers are Ya’alon and Buji Herzog, who was opposed by most of his party in his negotiations with Netanyahu, that have now failed. It is rumored that he will be replaced soon and meanwhile Labor is in sharp decline.