Lieberman already set to visit US
Will take part in the Saban Forum at the Brookings Institution.
By SHEERA CLAIRE FRENKEL, GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
October 31, 2006 01:09
3 minute read.
Avigdor Lieberman 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Knesset approved Israel Beiteinu's addition to the government late Monday night, enabling the swearing-in of Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman as deputy prime minister in charge of strategic affairs, with a primary focus on the Iranian nuclear threat. The vote was 61 in favor, 38 against and 21 abstentions.
Lieberman is already set for his first trip abroad as a minister. He will travel to the United States on December 8 to take part in the prestigious Saban Forum at the Saban Center For Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.
Lieberman will speak about the future of the Middle East on a panel with Labor MK Ami Ayalon that will be chaired by former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger. Lieberman's event is scheduled between addresses by former president Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton.
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Officials at the Saban Center said they were honored to host Lieberman in his first address abroad since becoming a minister.
Israel Beiteinu's addition expanded Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition to 78 MKs. Olmert continued efforts to add United Torah Judaism to the coalition on Monday, sending a messenger to UTJ head Ya'acov Litzman. Officials in Kadima and UTJ said Olmert gave Litzman a two-week deadline to join the coalition before his Knesset Finance Committee chairmanship would be taken from him. Olmert will meet with the six-man faction later this week.
Coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki said that after Israel Beiteinu's addition, he saw "no need to hurry" to add UTJ. Sources close to him said he preferred to keep UTJ outside the coalition to "teach them a lesson."
Olmert said he was pleased with Israel Beiteinu's addition to the coalition and that Lieberman would not prevent the government from seeking diplomatic progress.
Labor chairman Amir Peretz told his faction that his party's way of reacting to Lieberman would be to initiate new diplomatic plans and advance them in the government.
"The government will continue acting on the diplomatic issues," Olmert told the Kadima faction. "It's important to continue advancing the diplomatic issues on the agenda, including the Palestinian issue and pursuing talks with Lebanon. The Iranian issue requires important diplomatic and public relations efforts."
The Arab and left-wing MKs, who have been the most vocal opponents to Lieberman, walked out of the plenum for Lieberman's swearing-in ceremony.
Not to be outdone, Lieberman's family clapped while the new minister took his oath, and booed at the exiting Arab MKs.
"We could not stand to sit and watch a man who has called for the death of Arabs be sworn in as a minister to this country," said United Arab List-Ta'al MK Ahmad Tibi.
Two Gil Pensioners MKs voted against Lieberman, and five Labor MKs absented themselves from the vote. The most notable abstention was Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ophir Paz-Pines, who announced earlier in the day that he was resigning his post in the government to protest his party's decision to accept Israel Beiteinu in the coalition.
Earlier in the day, the Knesset voted down five no-confidence motions against the government in votes ranging from 70-62 against and 14-21 in favor. It was the highest number of no-confidence motions that have been brought against the government since the war in Lebanon began.
Many of the motions focused on the inclusion of Lieberman in the government. Meretz MK Zahava Gal-On called him an "unrestrained and irresponsible man" during her speech to the Knesset.
Gal-On's speech was followed by MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima), who welcomed Lieberman to the government and complimented him on creating "a sane and more stable coalition."
Placed conspicuously on the desks of the MKs as they placed their votes was the 2007 budget, which Finance Minister Avraham Hirschon presented to the Knesset Monday. The addition of Lieberman is expected to secure the speedy passing of the 2007 budget, which had gotten off top a rocky start due to several rebel Labor MKs in the Knesset Finance Committee.
Meanwhile, Israel Beitenu's addition to the government was expected to reshuffle the chairmanships of several Knesset committees. MK Esterina Tartman (Israel Beiteinu) will likely be asked to leave her post as chairwoman of the State Comptroller Committee, as that position is always held by a member of the opposition.
Tartman said that while her party would likely be given another committee chairmanship, she was not certain who would be receiving the post.
"Now that we are going into the government, there will be plenty of positions to go around for everyone," she said.
In the prestigious Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Labor MK Colette Avital will become the first female to serve as a permanent member of the committee when she replaces MK Ephraim Sneh. Sneh will leave the committee to assume his post of deputy defense minister.