JERUSALEM, May 25 (UPI) -- A realignment of coalitions in the Israeli government has brought in an ultranationalist defense minister and a strongly right-wing government.
To enhance a thin majority in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to a coalition deal between his Likud Party and the Yisrael Beiteinu Party led by Avigdor Lieberman.
Lieberman will become Israel's defense minister, considered the second-most important position in the Cabinet. He will replace the popular Moshe Ya'alon, who resigned days ago over differences with Netanyahu.
Lieberman is regarded as a polarizing figure, with a number of disagreements over the years with Netanyahu. His appointment to the government surprised analysts, coming in the midst of negotiations with Israel's opposition leader, Isaac Herzog. Herzog's centrist Zionist Union has not signed on as a coalition partner.
In Lieberman, the government gets a defense minister who has, in the past, called for the occupation of Gaza and the bombing of Egypt's Aswan Dam. He has referred to Arab members of the Knesset as "traitors," and lives in a West Bank settlement, in defiance of accords indicating the area is for Arab settlement. His hawkish approach is indicative of a strong right-wing turn in Netanyahu's administration. Hard-right figures now dominate several government ministries, making a two-state solution for peace with the Palestinians more difficult to achieve.
Ehud Barak, a former Israeli defense minister and prime minister, said Israel's government has been "infected by the shoots of fascism."
The coalition agreement was signed Wednesday.