(AFP) – Jan 16, 2008
JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel's outspoken Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday pulled his hardline party out of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government in protest at renewed peace talks.
"I informed Olmert that we were quitting the coalition and the government," Lieberman said at a press conference in parliament announcing the departure of his ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party.
"I said that if there are negotiations on the core issues we will not remain in the coalition," he said.
"Therefore things seem very clear to me," said the 49-year-old Lieberman. "Everyone knows that this process will lead nowhere... the principle of land for peace is a fatal mistake that is hard to understand."
His move is likely to shake Olmert's coalition just as peace talks get underway, although the government retains a majority in parliament.
In a statement issued by his office after the announcement, Olmert said: "There is no alternative to serious peace negotiations.... The prime minister is determined to continue the talks which hold the only real chance to assure Israel's security and peace."
Lieberman's resignation came two days after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators officially launched talks on the thorniest issues of the Middle East conflict, including Jerusalem, refugees and settlements.
The negotiations came hot on the heels of a landmark visit to the region by US President George W. Bush last week during which he predicted that the two sides would sign a peace treaty before he left office in January 2009.
The departure of Yisrael Beitenu's 11 MPs still leaves Olmert's government with 67 seats in the 120-member parliament.
But it weakens the premier ahead of the January 30 release of a final report by a government-appointed commission investigating the political and military leadership's conduct during the 2006 34-day war.
The report is expected to be highly critical of Olmert.
With Lieberman out, the focus in Israel turns on the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which has 12 seats in parliament and has also threatened to pull out if the issue of Jerusalem is discussed during the renewed negotiations.
Lieberman's move came 14 months after he and his party, which draws support mainly from ex-Soviet immigrants, joined the government in the wake of the 2006 war against Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.
He was appointed minister of strategic affairs and deputy prime minister in charge of dealing with the Iranian issue, which Israel considers its main strategic threat.
It was his third time serving as a minister in an Israeli government.
An immigrant from ex-Soviet Moldova, Lieberman has sparked outrage among Israel's Arab minority with some of his statements over the years.
Among Lieberman's statements to have caused the most furore was a call for land and population exchanges to create homogeneous Jewish and Palestinian states, and for the execution of Israeli Arab MPs who have had dealings with the hardline Hamas movement, which Israeli considers a terrorist organization.
The married father-of-three served as national infrastructure minister in 2001-2002 and transport minister in 2003-2004.
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