The leader of a right-wing Israeli party quit the ruling coalition government, Wednesday, saying he does not support negotiations with Palestinians that will result in Israeli giving up land it captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem.
Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the Yisrael Beitenu Party, says he is quitting the government, because he believes a withdrawal to Israel's 1967 borders will not end terrorism or bring peace.
Lieberman says negotiations based on land for peace are a mistake and that Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank are not an obstacle to peace.
Lieberman has 12 seats in the Israeli Knesset or parliament. With his withdrawal from Ehud Olmert's coalition, the prime minister now has a majority of 67 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Lieberman, whose party is made up largely of Russian immigrants, advocates transferring Israel's Arab population to Palestinian areas -- something Israeli Arabs have strongly objected to.
Joshua Teitelbaum, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University, says Lieberman's departure solidifies right-wing opposition to peace talks with the Palestinians.
"I think it is the beginning of the challenge from the right-wing part of this government to the peace process," said Teitelbaum.
Mr. Olmert's political future could be further jeopardized, later this month, when an official commission of inquiry will release its final report on his government's conduct during Israel's second war in Lebanon, in 2006. If the report is highly critical of Mr. Olmert, Israel's left-of center Labor Party leader, Defense Minister Ehud Barak could pull his 19-seats out of the government.
The ultra-orthodox Shas Party has also threatened to pull its 12 seats out of the government, if Mr. Olmert moves to give up any part of East Jerusalem in negotiations with the Palestinians.
Joshua Teitelbaum of Tel Aviv University says although right-wing opposition to Mr. Olmert's peace moves is solidifying, the prime minister still has room to maneuver and could emerge stronger if he manages to show a strong hand in Gaza.
"Prime Minister Olmert is balancing this with what looks to be like a tougher stand on Gaza," said Teitelbaum. "As everyone knows the villages around Gaza have been bombarded from within Gaza and Israel looks like it is gearing up for a major move in Gaza. So that will, on the other hand, help him with his right wing."
Meanwhile, Israeli troops began dismantled two small outposts in the West Bank. Prime Minister Olmert has pledged to dismantle about 20 such outposts as part of his effort to revive peace negotiations with the Palestinians.