Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party signed a coalition agreement with the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu faction, naming its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, as the incoming foreign minister, Israeli media reported early today.
The agreement is the first signed by Mr Netanyahu on his way toward setting up a coalition of hawkish and Orthodox Jewish parties.
Both Likud and Yisrael Beitenu left the door open for Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima Party to join, but that appeared unlikely.
Mr Lieberman is widely considered a racist because of his plan to require loyalty oaths from Israel’s Arab citizens. His appointment as foreign minister is seen as potentially harmful to Israel’s international ties.
The new Israeli government taking shape would take a much harder line on Palestinian and Arab issues than the current one, headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Mr Netanyahu has criticised last year’s US-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, aimed at resolving outstanding differences and reaching a full peace accord between Israel and a new Palestinian state.
The talks have made no apparent progress, and yesterday Mr Olmert blamed the weak Palestinian government for the failure.
In turn, Palestinian negotiators blamed Israel, citing expansion of West Bank settlements and hundreds of roadblocks in the West Bank.
Instead of peace talks, Mr Netanyahu favours efforts to bolster the Palestinian economy, leaving issues like borders, sovereignty and Israeli settlements for a later stage.
In defiance of standing Israeli commitments to international plans, Mr Netanyahu favours expanding Israel’s West Bank Jewish settlements to allow for “natural growth,” accommodating the growing families in the communities.
Palestinians reject that approach and have the backing of the new Obama administration.
In her recent visit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said several times that the goal of negotiations must be creation of a Palestinian state to live next to Israel in peace.