US will work with new Israeli defense minister, State Department says


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The appointment of hard-liner Avigdor Liberman as Israel’s new defense minister will not affect security coordination between Israel and the United States or the military aid package being negotiated, an unnamed U.S. government official said, according to an Israeli television report.

The report by Channel 10 on Sunday came hours after another Israeli TV station, Channel 2, reported that the U.S. warned Israel that the appointment of Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, would cause problems for the defense talks.

Liberman in the defense post will succeed Moshe Yaalon, who resigned from his ministerial position as well as the Knesset on Friday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was immersed in talks to replace him with Liberman.

“We appreciate Mr. Yaalon’s leadership and partnership as defense minister and we look forward to working with his successor,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said Friday, Reuters reported. “Our bonds of friendship are unbreakable, and our commitment to the security of Israel remains absolute.”

Yaalon said in leaving that the Likud party had been “taken over by extremist and dangerous entities,” and that Likud “is no longer the movement I joined.” Bringing Yisrael Beiteinu into the government coalition increases the one-seat majority to six.

On Saturday night, several hundred protesters gathered in Habimah Square in Tel Aviv to protest the new political coalition. Protesters chanted slogans such as “Bibi you failed, Bibi go home” and “We don’t want more victims, Liberman is a minister of war,” The Jerusalem Post reported.

Netanyahu said Sunday morning during the weekly Cabinet meeting that from the time the government was formed, he planned to expand the government coalition.

“A government that is as broad as possible is the best thing for the State of Israel. We are in the midst of moves to expand the government. I think that a broader coalition will help us meet the many challenges facing us and also take advantage of the opportunities,” Netanyahu said.

“I would like to make it clear that a broad government will continue to strive for a diplomatic process with the Palestinians and we will do so with the assistance of elements in the region. I personally deal with this a lot, in many places and I intend to continue to do so.”

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