Likud scion Begin: Naming Liberman defense minister 'a bizarre idea'

MK says decision by Netanyahu 'irresponsible toward defense establishment and the citizens of Israel.'

May 18, 2016 22:18
2 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Bennie Begin confer in the Knesset

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Bennie Begin confer in the Knesset. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)

MK Bennie Begin, the former government minister and son of legendary Likud leader Menachem Begin, criticized the appointment of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman as "a bizarre idea."

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post's Hebrew-language sister publication Ma'ariv, Begin said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's intention to have Liberman replace Moshe Ya'alon as defense minister was "a step that expresses irresponsibility toward the defense establishment and all of Israel's citizens."

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"The political seesaw between candidates who are supposed to join the coalition is indicative of the fact that the prime minister prefers to replace the difficulties of managing a coalition with a thin majority with much larger difficulties, perhaps even with dangers that will result from this bad appointment," Begin said.

Begin has turned down an offer to head the powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The veteran MK was virtually alone among voices on the right who criticized the expansion of the coalition. Most Likud members implored Netanyahu to expedite talks with Liberman after negotiation with Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog hit an impasse.

In a day of political upheavals, Netanyahu went from a stalemate in coalition talks with Herzog to reaching a preliminary deal with the Yisrael Beytenu leader in just 16 hours.

In a meeting that lasted less than an hour Wednesday afternoon, Liberman accepted Netanyahu's offer of the defense and immigrant absorption portfolios and support for key Yisrael Beytenu-sponsored legislation. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin negotiated for Likud with Liberman and Jerusalem city councilman Moshe Lion late Wednesday in an effort to finalize the deal by Thursday, ahead of Monday's return of the Knesset from its extended Passover recess.

Netanyahu updated Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon immediately after meeting with Liberman. While it was not final Wednesday night, a source close to Netanyahu said Ya'alon was likely to be compensated by becoming foreign minister.

There will be a series of appointments within Likud as well, with Levin and outgoing Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Elkin expected to receive promotions.

Talks with Yisrael Beytenu began after negotiations with the Zionist Union failed to progress. Netanyahu met with Herzog until 1 a.m. late Tuesday night but failed to reach agreements on diplomatic issues.

In a Tel Aviv press conference, Herzog blamed the failure to reach a deal on Netanyahu refusing to write down his commitments on diplomatic issues. But Likud officials said Herzog had not succeeded in drafting the support of any MKs in his 24-MK faction, while Liberman's six MKs were loyal and obedient.

Liberman dared Netanyahu to engage in serious coalition talks to add Yisrael Beytenu to the government Wednesday morning in a press conference at the Knesset.

Netanyahu immediately called and invited him to meet with him four hours later.

At the press conference Liberman denied a report that he met last week with Netanyahu and that the prime minister offered him the Defense Ministry. He said he had heard such offers only from the press and "self-appointed mediators" who did not represent Netanyahu.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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