Likud signs coalition agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu

Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, speaking at a news conference at the Knesset, May 18, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, speaking at a news conference at the Knesset, May 18, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

(JTA) – The ruling Likud and nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu parties inked a coalition agreement, paving the way for the latter’s entrance into Israel’s government.

The two parties began negotiating on May 18, when reports emerged that Israel Beiteinu Chair Avigdor Liberman would replace Moshe Ya’alon as the country’s defense minister. Yisrael Beiteinu will add five seats to the coalition, growing to 66 of the Knesset’s 120 seats.

The agreement Wednesday allows Palestinians to be sentenced to death absent a unanimous verdict, according to Israeli news website Ynet. Yisrael Beiteinu ran its 2015 election campaign on instituting a death penalty for terrorists, though the policy change in the coalition agreement will not affect Israeli citizens convicted of terror.

The coalition agreement includes increased pensions for Israel’s elderly, as well as increased funding for public housing. In addition to Liberman taking over the defense post, Yisrael Beiteinu lawmaker Sofa Landver will become immigrant absorption minister.

The coalition agreement, according to Ynet, requires a unanimous vote from all coalition parties for any change in Israel’s religious legislation. Effectively, that clause gives United Torah Judaism and Shas, the two haredi Orthodox coalition parties, veto power over reforms Yisrael Beiteinu had sought in Israel’s conversion law. The haredi parties oppose any such reform.

Upon signing the coalition deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the Labor party, Israel’s largest opposition faction, to join the coalition so that Israel could pursue a peace accord. Netanyahu had engaged in intensive coalition negotiations with Labor Chair Isaac Herzog last week before performing an about-face and reaching a tentative agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu.

“My government remains committed to pursuing peace with the Palestinians and with all our neighbors,” Netanyahu said, according to Israeli media reports. “My policy has not changed. We will pursue every avenue for peace while ensuring the safety and security of our citizens.”

Liberman, referring to past spats between him and Netanyahu, said, “I’ve had surgery to have my short fuse extended.”

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