Coalition deal tasks Lieberman with Iran issue

Israel Beiteinu gets Foreign, Nat'l Infrastructures, Tourism, Absorption and Public Security ministries.

Lieberman calm down 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Lieberman calm down 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The coalition agreement that the Likud signed with Israel Beiteinu at 1 a.m. on Monday not only makes party leader Avigdor Lieberman foreign minister, it also puts him in charge of Israel's strategic dialogue with the United States on issues such as Iran, according to a draft of the deal obtained by The Jerusalem Post. The joint American-Israel strategic dialogue committee is where key decisions are made regarding both countries' policies toward the emerging nuclear threat, and on other key strategic issues in meetings twice a year. The committee's work is so sensitive that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appointed Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former IDF chief of General Staff, to head Israel's delegation rather than Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, because she is a novice on military matters. Israel's foreign minister has not headed the committee for several years. When Ariel Sharon was prime minister, it was headed by Tzahi Hanegbi, and before him by Uzi Landau. Israel Beiteinu officials said it was important for Lieberman to head the committee because he wanted a foothold in Israel's diplomatic relationship with the US, even though it is traditionally handled by the prime minister. Kadima officials were surprised by the appointment and said it proved more than ever that Netanyahu's government would be dominated by Lieberman. But Netanyahu's associates downplayed the role of the committee. "It is a junior role and I wouldn't read too much into it," a Netanyahu associate said. "The committee's role is inflated. It's a position of honor and prominence. But the security cabinet will deal with much more sensitive decisions and intelligence." Netanyahu's associates noted that one of Lieberman's demands was to be in charge of all diplomatic ties with the US, and that he had failed to receive this. Lieberman will, however, head a new committee to be be formed for strategic dialogue between the US and Russia. Besides Lieberman as foreign minister, Israel Beiteinu received the positions of deputy foreign minister for MK Danny Ayalon, national infrastructures minister for MK Uzi Landau, tourism minister for MK Stas Meseznikov, absorption minister for MK Sofa Landver and public security minister for MK Yitzhak Aharonovitch. MK Dudu Rotem will head the Knesset Law Committee. He will be in charge of promoting electoral reforms, although they will be limited because the coalition agreement includes a clause that requires the approval of all member factions if changes are to be made in the Basic Law, and Shas opposes most key reforms. But one change the coalition would support is to allow seven MKs to break away from any faction, even if they do not amount to a third of the faction. This would allow a minimum of seven MKs to split from Kadima, rather than 10 under the current law. The agreement also includes clauses on aliya, absorption, strategic goals, citizenship and conversion. On aliya and absorption, the parties agreed to establish a committee chaired by an Israel Beiteinu minister that will have an NIS 82 million budget for its first year. The document stipulates that it will work with the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee and other non-governmental bodies. The committee will focus on immigrant housing subsidies, the promotion of business initiatives for olim, and the provision of assistance to elderly and disabled olim, single-parent families who make aliya and Holocaust survivors. Under the diplomatic section of the document, a single line asserts that "toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza" will be a strategic goal for the State of Israel. After running on the campaign slogan "No citizenship without loyalty," Lieberman seems to have made serious concessions. A short section on citizenship gives authority to the courts to "renounce rights to pensions, grants and financial assistance" to anyone who commits an act under Section 11b of the Citizenship Law 1952 or the Terror Funding Law 2005. The section on conversion, one of the heftiest in the document, states that legislation will be enacted to make the matter of conversion a single area under Israeli law, noting that the government will work in conjunction with the Chief Rabbinate. Under the legislation, conversion certification would qualify as "proof of Jewishness" for all legal and religious purposes. The deal also stipulates that conversions can be annulled only if evidence is found that they were granted on the basis of false or mistaken information. Elana Kirsh contributed to this report.