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Israel defence minister quits, says Netanyahu fanning extremism


Jerusalem: Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon resigned on Friday, charging that extremists had taken over the country after he clashed repeatedly with hardline ministers over the army’s handling of Palestinian violence.

Yaalon said he no longer had any trust in Benjamin Netanyahu after the prime minister offered his post to a hardliner loathed by the Palestinians, in a bid to expand the governing coalition’s majority.

The surprise move by the respected former armed forces chief comes after a series of disputes over the military’s values and role in society between ministers in Netanyahu’s government and top generals backed by Yaalon.

“I told the prime minister this morning that due to his conduct in recent developments, and in light of my lack of trust in him, I am resigning from the government and Knesset (parliament) and taking a break from political life,” Yaalon said on Twitter.

His resignation comes two days after former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said he would be open to bringing his far-right Yisrael Beitenu party into Netanyahu’s governing coalition if a number of conditions were met, including being named defence minister.

That condition looked likely to be met as Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party pressed talks with Yisrael Beitenu on Friday on the terms of a deal to boost the coalition’s wafer-thin majority in parliament.

Yaalon’s resignation does not take effect for two days and, hours after it was announced, he used the podium of the defence ministry to deliver an impassioned tirade against the extremism that he said was gripping the Likud party and the country as a whole.

“Unfortunately extremist and dangerous elements have taken over Israel and the Likud and are threatening (society),” he said.

“This isn’t the Likud I joined,” he added, calling on the “sane majority” of Likud voters as well as the rest of the nation “to realise the severe implications of the extremist takeover of the centre, and fight this phenomenon.”

Yaalon said he had worked harmoniously with Netanyahu in the past, but recently “found himself in serious dispute over professional and moral issues with the prime minister, a number of ministers and lawmakers.”

Within the government Yaalon had been an outspoken defender of the army’s handling of an upsurge of Palestinian violence since last October against criticism from hardline ministers and lawmakers.

He had also insisted on senior officers’ right to “speak their mind” after deputy armed forces chief Major General Yair Golan enraged Netanyahu by comparing contemporary Israeli society to Nazi Germany.

Yaalon accused the prime minister of political opportunism in offering Lieberman his job in a bid to add a few seats to the coalition’s majority in parliament.

“Leaders should show the way with values.. not be dragged for electoral reasons and over polls,” he said.

– Sane and balanced voice -Centre-left opposition lawmaker Merav Michaeli said Yaalon’s departure deprived the country of a voice of moderation.

“We lost a sane and balanced voice in the dangerous and deranged right-wing government Netanyahu is leading,” she said.

President Reuven Rivlin, known for having a difficult relationship with Netanyahu, said he was “greatly saddened” by Yaalon’s resignation, which he called “understandable, and even appropriate” under the political circumstances.

Ironically, Yaalon’s resignation will move the Likud parliamentary party further to the right as his seat will be taken by religious hardliner Yehuda Glick, who is next on the party list.

The 50-year-old US-born rabbi is an outspoken campaigner for a change to rules governing Jerusalem’s most sensitive site,the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, to allow Jews to pray as well as visit.

Palestinian fears that the government might be preparing such a change were one of the triggers for the wave of violence that erupted last year.

Glick survived a 2014 assassination attempt by a Palestinian, and recently renewed his visits to the mosque compound, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.

Speaking on army radio, Glick said he would strive to turn “the Temple Mount from a place of (Palestinian) incitement to one of peace.”

The expected return of Lieberman, who served as foreign minister under Netanyahu from 2009 to 2012 and again from 2013 to 2015, is likely to raise international concern about his government’s political direction — especially on the conflict with the Palestinians.

As defence minister, Lieberman, who himself lives in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, would oversee military operations in the Palestinian territories and have a major say in policy towards the settlements.

The international community considers the settlements illegal and regards their persistent expansion by successive Netanyahu governments as one of the biggest obstacles to peace.

Agence France-Presse

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