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updated 10/23/2006 9:24:50 AM ET 2006-10-23T13:24:50

A party that takes a hard line against the Arabs will join Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, its leader said Monday, a development likely to encumber already faltering efforts to renew peace talks with the Palestinians.

“We are joining the government,” Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beteinu party, said after meeting with Olmert to conclude a coalition agreement.

Yisrael Beiteinu party would bring 11 lawmakers into the coalition, giving Olmert control of 78 of 120 parliamentary seats. Such a broad majority would allow Olmert greater latitude to maneuver politically, despite harsh criticism of his handling of the August war.

Lieberman said he hoped a coalition agreement would be signed by Tuesday.

Yisrael Beitenu’s participation in the government would likely ensure Olmert’s plan to dismantle dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, while strengthening others, remained on the shelf.

Olmert announced after the 34-day Lebanon war ended in August — after Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets from territory Israel quit in 2000 — that the “realignment plan” was no longer a pressing issue on the government’s agenda.

‘Strategic threats against Israel’
In separate remarks to reporters, Olmert said he intended to appoint Lieberman as one of his deputy prime ministers to deal with “strategic threats against Israel,” a clear reference to Israeli fears that Iran could build a nuclear bomb.

The left-leaning Labor party, with a critical 19 seats, was divided over Lieberman’s addition to the government and some lawmakers have vowed to fight it.

But some said Labor would eventually assent to Lieberman joining the government rather than drop out of the coalition, a move that could hurt its popularity further.

Lieberman, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, was once a key aide to ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Lieberman has advocated annexing West Bank settlements and transferring some Israeli-Arab towns to a future Palestinian state.

© 2013


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