Liberman Becomes Defense Minister, Coalition Grows to 66

YERUSHALAYIM -
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and new Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman entering the room for a joint press conference at the Knesset on Monday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and new Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman entering the room for a joint press conference at the Knesset on Monday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After days of snags, snafus and sniping, Avigdor Liberman’s tortuous path to the Defense Ministry finally reached its culmination on Monday night as the Knesset approved his appointment and he and four fellow Yisrael Beytenu MK’s were sworn in.

That brought Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s quest for a wider coalition to a rest stop, though not an end, with a somewhat more stable majority of 66 of 120 MK’s.

Monday’s confirmation did not come without its own price. In a lengthy plenum debate, opposition MK’s took the opportunity for yet another round of verbal assaults on Netanyahu.

Zionist Camp MK Amir Peretz reminded his colleagues of what he had said when he left his post as Environment Minister: “Binyamin Netanyahu is not the solution. He is the problem.”

Peretz, who had been Defense Minister himself, though lacking military experience, said that he had no objection to Liberman’s appointment per se, despite the latter’s lack of military background. But he warned that Netanyahu’s sole interest in adding Liberman and his party to the coalition was that of “survival” as prime minister.

The final vote to approve Liberman as Defense Minister, Yisrael Beytenu MK Sofa Landver as Immigrant Absorption Minister, and Likud MK Tzahi Hanegbi as minister-without portfolio, was 55-43.

Earlier in the day, the issue of Naftali Bennett’s ultimatum for security cabinet reform was resolved by a compromise proposal from United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Litzman to temporarily appoint an intelligence official to brief the ministers. That cleared the way for cabinet approval of the appointment.

But that did not go smoothly either. There was an awkward moment when the incoming ministers were not invited for a meeting, prompting Netanyahu to ask at one point, “Where are the incoming ministers?”

Tourism Minister MK Yariv Levin of Likud summed up Monday’s events on an upbeat note: “We are assembling a sturdy and consistent government. This connection will bring stability to Israel and the ability to be successful for a long time, both as a government and each one of us individually in our respective committees and offices.”