Thursday, October 26, 2006

Extreme Right-Winger to Join Israeli Government

BEN LYNFIELD - IN JERUSALEM

A FAR-RIGHT politician dubbed "the most dangerous politician in the history of Israel" because of his anti-Arab and authoritarian views last night looked set to join the Israeli government.

Prime minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet voted 12 to 11, with one abstention, to approve Avigdor Lieberman's controversial plan to strip powers from parliament and concentrate them in the hands of the prime minister - a decision which was seen as paving the way for his entry into the ruling coalition.

Critics claim the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party is trying to put in place features of a dictatorship in advance of his eventually becoming prime minister.

Mr Lieberman's proposal, which would do away with no-confidence votes, calls for the direct election of the prime minister, and allows him or her to appoint a cabinet without approval of MPs and to declare a state of emergency before gaining the endorsement of either the cabinet or the legislature.

He says the plan is a cure for the frequent collapse of governments and for corruption and inefficiency among cabinet ministers appointed out of political patronage.

"We need to choose a president that has four years of quiet like in the US," he said.

Hebrew University professor Zeev Sternhell, Israel's leading academic specialist on fascism and totalitarianism, yesterday termed Mr Lieberman "perhaps the most dangerous politician in the history of the state of Israel".

Although analysts believe the plan is unlikely to pass the required three Knesset readings, the cabinet vote was seen as a way of getting Mr Lieberman into the coalition, which is in need of allies.

Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Mr Olmert, said entry by Mr Lieberman into the government would be strictly on the basis of the existing coalition guidelines.

"The prime minister says there are things he disagrees about with Lieberman. Lieberman may have said all sorts of things but if he is willing to join the guidelines of the present government without changing it, the prime minister is more than happy to have him join," she said.

Analysts say Mr Olmert's courting of Mr Lieberman is to shore up his Knesset majority, which now consists of 69 MPs, given uncertainty over how Labour, the junior partner, may vote on budget legislation.

Mr Lieberman's party holds 11 seats in the 120-member Knesset, making it the fourth largest, ahead of the once-dominant Likud party.

In a period in which Mr Olmert and his Kadima party, as well as defence minister Amir Peretz's Labour party, have been discredited by Israel's failure to win a clear victory in this summer's war with Hezbollah, Mr Lieberman has become the undisputed rising star of Israeli politics.

Public dissatisfaction due to a series of corruption and sex scandals rocking mainstream political life have also played into his hands.

Mr Lieberman's view of Israel is one of a country where only Jews have political rights.

"Israel is our home. Palestine is theirs," Yisrael Beiteinu's election platform wrote, referring to Israel's Arab minority, which comprises 20 per cent of the population. In an interview with HaZofeh newspaper last month, Mr Lieberman said: "The vision I would like to see here is the entrenching of the Jewish and the Zionist state.

"I very much favour democracy, but when there is a contradiction between democratic and Jewish values, the Jewish and Zionist values are more important."

His party's platform calls for the transfer of Arab areas of Israel to the Palestinian Authority and for annexing Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

"He has a genuine social power base among the Russian immigrants and in the lower middle class among people who think the Knesset and supreme court have too much power," Professor Sternhell said.

"Now, by joining the cabinet, Lieberman is taking a giant step forward."

Mr Lieberman was seen as the brains behind Benjamin Netanyahu's successful campaign for the premiership in 1996 and Ariel Sharon praised him as the most capable minister in cabinets formed in 2001 and 2003.

But his extremist views have also come to the fore regularly. In 1998 he called for the bombing of Egypt's Aswan Dam in retaliation for Cairo's support for Yasser Arafat.

Shawki Khatib, a leader of Israel's Arab minority, yesterday urged Mr Olmert to back off from his burgeoning alliance with Mr Lieberman, whose rise, he said, should be a "red light for Israeli society".

Mr Khatib termed Yisrael Beiteinu a "fascist party" and added that history has shown every fascist party targets minorities.

The hard-liner: AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN

Born: Moldova, 1958, married with three children.

Moved to Israel 1978.

Higher education: BA in international relations, Hebrew University.

Lives: Nokdim settlement in occupied West Bank.

Political path: Advanced within right-wing Likud party as ally of party leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Founder and head of Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) party. Dismissed as transport minister in Sharon cabinet in June 2004 for opposition to planned withdrawal from Gaza Strip. The same year published book "My Truth", a call to draw Israel's borders to exclude Arab citizens and include illegal Israeli West Bank settlements.

SOURCE: The Scotsman

Also see The Scotsman's Section on the Middle East Conflict

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