White House: We look forward to working with Liberman as defense minister

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May 23, 2016 01:56

Netanyahu to meet French PM today.

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Avigdor Liberman

Avigdor Liberman speaks to Russian-speaking Jews in synagogue in Brooklyn, New York in 2014. (photo credit: Courtesy)

New York - The US is looking forward to working with the next Israeli defense minister, a senior White House official said Sunday.

His words and those of the State Department last week doused speculation that the presumptive appointment of Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman to the post would harm Israel’s relations with the US.

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Among the issues that would fall on Liberman’s plate is the continued negotiations to replace and upgrade the Memorandum of Understanding, under which Israel is guaranteed to receive $3 billion annually from the US.

The Obama administration does not anticipate negotiations over a decade-long US defense package to Israel will be altered by the appointment of a new Israeli defense minister.

“We look forward to working on this issue, among many others, with the next Israeli minister of defense,” the official said.

“The United States remains ready to sign an MOU with Israel that would constitute the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in US history.”

The White House official spoke after a week of political turmoil in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to sign an agreement that will bring Yisrael Beytenu into the coalition, thereby widening its membership from a narrow margin of 61 parliamentarians to a more stable one of 66.

Liberman will then likely become defense minister, replacing the Likud’s Moshe Ya’alon. The final details of such an agreement have yet to be worked out.

But Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem on Sunday night that they should not complain about the Liberman appointment.

People, particularly in the media, need to stop “the self-flagellation and the whining,” Netanyahu said as he responded to questions during a joint press conference at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel with visiting Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka.

“I have fought as an officer and a soldier in Sayeret Matkal [the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit]. I fought in battle and was wounded,” he said.

“It is in Israel’s best interest to have a broader coalition,” he said, explaining that he had made offers to Zionist Union headed by Isaac Herzog and to Liberman. “It was Liberman who responded positively.”

A broader coalition would allow Israel to pursue a peace process with the Palestinians, along with the help of regional actors, Netanyahu told his weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday.

“I have personally devoted a lot of time to this in many places and I will continue to do so,” he said.

Diplomatic and political pundits have speculated that a coalition with Liberman, particularly one that places him in such a sensitive post, will make it harder for the prime minister to pursue a peace deal with the Palestinians.

On Sunday, Netanyahu rejected that claim, noting that from the moment he was elected for a third term, he had spoken of the necessity of widening the coalition.

“It is important for Israel to have as broad a coalition as possible,” he said. “We are in the midst of moves to expand the government.

A broad coalition will help us meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.”

On Monday, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls who is visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories to strengthen economic ties and to promote the launch of a French-led international peace initiative in Paris on June 3.

While Netanyahu has spoken favorably of regional peace efforts, he has opposed this one. Neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian delegations have been invited to the June 3 meeting, in which ministers from over 20 countries will plan a larger peace conference for the fall. They hope to lay the groundwork for renewed Israeli- Palestinian talks.

But former president Shimon Peres welcomed both Valls and the initiative when he met with the French prime minister in Jaffa on Sunday night.

“You brought with you both optimism, which we need, and cooperation, which is necessary.

I do believe that in spite of all the troubles we are facing, we can and we should move ahead [with the peace process].

“Your mission to bring new ideas and agendas for the benefit of the region and for peace are timely and are great,” Peres said.

Valls also visited the Yitzhak Rabin memorial in Tel Aviv where he laid a wreath. He will be meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas before departing on Tuesday.


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