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Israel: coalition government faces fatal differences among members

Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman in Jerusalem 12 October 2021 [Amir Levy/Getty Images]
Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman in Jerusalem 12 October 2021 [Amir Levy/Getty Images]

Israel's coalition government is facing potentially fatal differences among its political partners less than a month after it lost its parliamentary majority. The issue has arisen after Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman criticised Defence Minister Benny Gantz on Monday for his meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Lieberman told a meeting of his Yisrael Beiteinu party in the Knesset that Abbas "must not be legitimised" by such meetings. "He can't be a partner for anything," he is reported as saying by the Times of Israel. "He is a terrorist just like the rest of the terrorists. He just deals in political terror, which sometimes is even more dangerous and harmful than conventional terror."

According to far-right winger Lieberman, "A person who files lawsuits against [Israeli] soldiers over war crimes cannot be a partner in anything… The pilgrimages to Abbas and the meetings with him must stop."

However, Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that Israel will continue its contact with Abbas. He stressed that Gantz "did right" in meeting with him.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, the head of the centre-left Labour party, also defended the meetings between Israeli officials and Abbas. "The PA must be supported and cooperation with it must be strengthened in order to stop the terrorist attacks," she said. "It is the official representation of the Palestinians and we need to work with it."

Michaeli has previously described the coalition government as "right-wing" and said that her party's main role in this government is to prevent the two-state solution being undermined.

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One day before this controversy, Lieberman re-introduced the idea of amending the 2018 Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People. The law, which is described by Arabs in Israel, Muslims and Christians, as well as rights groups and many Israeli MKs, as racist, enshrines in legislation that Israel is a Jewish state.

Liberman said that it discriminates against Druze in Israel, many of whom serve in senior positions in the Israeli occupation army and other state agencies. However, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked replied to him on Monday and said that her Yamina party would veto any plan to change the law.

"I recommend that my friends in the coalition stop amusing themselves by thinking they can make changes in Basic Laws that are not agreed upon," Shaked tweeted on Monday morning. "It won't happen, as is set in the coalition agreement."

Shaked was backed by fellow Yamina MKs Nir Orbach and Abir Kara, who both wrote on Twitter that the party's official stance remains opposed to any changes to the controversial 2018 law.

When he spoke about the changes, Liberman was addressing the recently released identity of an Israeli Druze Special Forces officer who was killed in a covert operation in the Gaza Strip in November 2018. "There is a clear contradiction between the Nation-State Law in its current form and the praise given to Druze Lieutenant Colonel Mahmoud Kheir el Din," Liberman tweeted on Sunday.

In the wake of Liberman's declaration, the Blue and White party declared on Sunday that it planned to bring an equality bill that would amend the Basic Law for review by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation as early as next week.

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