U.S. State Department: Coalition deal ‘raises legitimate questions’ on Israel’s path

(JTA) – In a first official statement to the coalition pact signed between Likud and the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, a U.S. State Department spokesman said this “raises legitimate questions” about the direction in which Israel is headed.

Mark Toner said this Wednesday, hours after the signing of a coalition deal that will install hardline settler Avigdor Liberman as defense minister instead of Moshe Ya’alon, a former general and Likud member who, after being asked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to switch jobs, resigned and cited the government’s handling of perceived growing extremism.

Confirming to a journalist that the State Department has seen the reports on the new deal, Toner said: “We’ve also seen reports from Israel describing it as the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history. And we also know that many of its ministers have said they opposed a two-state solution,” according to a transcript of the exchange during the daily press briefing in Washington, which was published on the website of the U.S. Department of State.

“This raises legitimate questions about the direction it may be headed in – headed in, rather – and what kind of policies it may adopt, but ultimately we’re going to judge this government based on its actions,” Toner added. “We’re going to work with this government as we have with every Israeli government that preceded it, with the goal of strengthening our co-operation, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to the security of Israel, and in our commitment to working towards a two-state solution.”

Often described in media as far-right in his political approach, Liberman, who has served as Israel’s foreign minister, has made statements in favour and against making territorial compromises for peace. He has also made statements favouring the establishment of a Palestinian state, though he has since said conditions are currently not favourable to realizing this outcome.

Asked about his willingness to cede land in 2014, he said during an interview: “The nation of Israel is more important than the Land of Israel.”

A supporter of the death penalty for terrorists and of conditioning Israeli citizenship on a pledge of allegiance, Liberman’s proposed peace plan involves giving over to a future Palestinian state areas of Israel proper that are populated by Arab Israelis, who are predominantly Palestinian and have Israeli citizenship. In exchange, he proposed Israel would receive land in the West Bank currently inhabited by Jewish settlers.

“Those who decide they identify as Palestinian could give up their Israeli citizenship and become citizens of a future Palestinian state,” he said in the 2014 interview with Channel 2.

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