October 23, 2016

Netanyahu coalition hit by second cabinet walkout

Gabbay belongs to Koolanu, a centrist party with 10 members in parliament [Reuters]

Israel’s environment minister has announced his resignation in protest against the inclusion of Avigdor Lieberman, the ultranationalist politician, in the coalition government.

Avi Gabbay’s resignation on Friday is the second cabinet walkout after Moshe Yaalon of the conservative Likud Party stepped down as defence minister in protest at his portfolio being offered to Lieberman.

Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, signed up Lieberman as the new defence minister on Wednesday in a pact reinforcing his coalition to six parties with control over 66 of parliament’s 120 seats, up from a razor-thin majority of 61.

“The recent political manoeuvring and defence minister’s replacement are, in my view, grave actions that ignore what is important for the country’s security and will bring about more extremism and rifts among the people,” Gabbay said in a resignation statement.

“I could not accept the removal of Yaalon, a professional defence minister.”

He said the country “has the right to have a right-wing government but I do not think it is right to form an extremist government”.

Gabbay belongs to Koolanu, the lone centrist party in the coalition, with 10 MPs in parliament.

He had clashed with Netanyahu over government plans to develop Israeli natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea under a consortium that critics say will limit competition and keep prices high.

The US has said the new coalition raises “legitimate questions” about the Netanyahu government’s commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Mark Toner, US state department spokesman, in a rare comment on Israeli internal politics, said on Wednesday that the US had “seen reports from Israel describing it as the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history.

“And we also know that many of its ministers have said they oppose a two-state solution.”

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