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Israeli Cabinet Approves Adding Ultra-Nationalist Party to Coalition


The Israeli Cabinet has voted to bring an ultra-nationalist party into the government. The partnership is likely to complicate efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert propped up his fragile government by bringing one of Israel's most controversial politicians into the coalition. Avigdor Lieberman heads the hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu party, pushing the center-left government to the right.

Mr. Olmert has been weakened by fierce public criticism of his handling of the recent war in Lebanon. Fearing that his government would not survive, he turned to Lieberman.

"I believe this move will create the foundation for a solid and stable government," he said.

But Lieberman's views on the Arabs have brought charges of racism. He proposes that, in exchange for Israel holding on to major settlement blocs in the West Bank, Israeli Arabs should be stripped of their citizenship, and their towns transferred to the Palestinian territories. In 2002, he called for the bombing of Palestinian gas stations, banks and commercial centers in response to suicide bombings.

Those views sharply contradict the platform of Mr. Olmert's senior coalition partner--the dovish Labor Party.

"I think, we should not be in the same government with Mr. Lieberman," said Labor parliamentarian Colette Avital. "I think that both his ideology and his practice is something that we should not be associated with."

Labor believes Lieberman will torpedo efforts to revive peace talks. But Mr. Olmert disagrees.

"The government will continue to pursue the peace process," he said. "First and foremost with the Palestinians."

Nevertheless, one of the reasons that Lieberman agreed to join the government was that Mr. Olmert has shelved what was once the cornerstone of his diplomatic policy - a unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank. The plan was dropped because, in the wake of the Lebanon war and the Palestinian election of the Islamic militant group Hamas, there is little enthusiasm among Israelis for more territorial concessions.

Lieberman sees that as an opportunity to expand West Bank settlements.

Lieberman's ideology worries Palestinian moderates. Nabil Shaath, a former Cabinet minister from the Fatah party, described Lieberman as a "dangerous" and "ugly symbol" of the new direction of the Israeli government.

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