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Israeli defense minister resigns from gov't, paving way for ultraright replacement

May 20, 2016 11:37 A.M. (Updated: May 21, 2016 4:10 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon announced his resignation on Friday morning following Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to offer the position to the ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman.

Yaalon wrote on his Facebook and Twitter: "I informed the prime minister this morning that following his recent actions and developments, and in light of the lack of his confidence in me, I am resigning from the government and the Knesset and taking a break from political life."

The now-resigned defense minister is set to hold a conference at noon.

Yaalon’s decision comes a day after Benjamin Netanyahu, who has served as prime minister for over a decade, shocked the world and many in his own government by offering Yaalon’s position to Lieberman from the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Ahead of Netanyahu’s surprise move, talks were centered on Netanyahu’s Likud party forming a coalition with the Zionist Union, headed by Isaac Herzog -- considered centrist on the Israeli political scene -- in order for the prime minister to enlarge his coalition’s influence in the Knesset which currently stands at a one-person majority.

A coalition with a party considered more “moderate” had onlookers hoping it would placate an Israeli political scene already far-right and constantly shifting farther right as extremist views in the country become mainstream.

However, Netanyahu’s decision to offer the position to Lieberman cemented a right-wing, ultranationalist coalition in the Knesset that the opposition has warned will result in policies balancing “on the brink of madness.”

Lieberman, who formerly served as foreign minister, has advocated policies ranging from the overthrow of the Palestinian Authority to the deportation of Palestinian citizens of Israel into the occupied Palestinian territory, while promoting the transfer of towns in Israel that are heavily populated by Palestinians to a future Palestinian state in exchange for Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Lieberman is currently heading a proposal to impose the death penalty on Palestinians who are convicted of terrorism, according to the Guardian.

In March, after a video was released of an Israeli soldier shooting a wounded Palestinian execution-style in the head, Lieberman publicly defended the soldier even as Yaalon and the Israeli military condemned the soldier’s actions, as he accused the right-wing Likud party of being “presenters” for B’Tselem, a well-known Israeli human rights group advocating against human rights abuses carried out by Israeli forces in the occupied territory.

The appointment is set to be decided on by the weekend. However, Yaalon’s resignation on Friday morning cleared the way for Lieberman to accept the position and the cementing of an ultra-right Israeli Knesset, which opposition leader Herzog has referred to as a perilous “journey of war and funerals,” adding that the decision will send a "message to the world that Israel prefers extremism, the occupation and settlements to a peace accord."

The appointment of Lieberman, who resides in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank, as defense minister threatens to exacerbate widely-condemned Israeli policies in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the besieged Gaza Strip, while ensuring Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem continue to expand at the expense of local Palestinian communities.

Meanwhile, Israeli media outlet Ynet reported on Friday that Yaalon would be replaced in the Knesset by Yehuda Glick, a right-wing rabbi well known for his controversial positions on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.

Glick rose to prominence for leading groups of rightist Israelis into the mosque compound for worship, in contravention of an agreement between Israel and the Islamic endowment since 1967 that prohibits non-Muslim prayer in the compound. In 2014, Glick reportedly assaulted a Palestinian woman while touring the holy site, although an Israeli court lately dropped the indictment against him.

Glick is also a resident of the illegal settlement of Otniel in the southern West Bank.
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