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Israel parliament approves hardliner Lieberman as defense minister

Ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman has taken the reigns of Israel's defense ministry, sealing a political alliance with Benjamin Netanyahu. The new minister backed two-state solution for the conflict in Palestine.

Lieberman won 55 votes to 43 in the 120-seat Knesset and was sworn in immediately after the Monday vote.

The appointment comes after weeks of political bargaining with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ruling coalition. By giving the ministerial post to the outspoken Lieberman, Netanyahu expanded his thin parliamentary majority to include 66 deputies with Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party. At the same time, the move raised eyebrows both in Israel and abroad, with many observers fearing the government would slide to extreme right.

Another member of Lieberman's party, Sofa Landver, was sworn in as minister of immigrant absorption on Monday.

In the wake of the shuffle, both Lieberman and Netanyahu appeared to signal willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians.

The new minister said he supported "two states for two peoples" in resolving the decades-long conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land. Lieberman also concurred with Netanyahu's comments about reviving a 2002 Arab peace initiative that promised recognition of Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state.

"The initiative includes positive elements that can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians," Netanyahu said on Monday.

"We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states with revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in the region since 2002 but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples," he added.

Concern over Lieberman's new role

Lieberman, Israel's former foreign minister, has come under public scrutiny for questioning Arab-Israelis' loyalty to the state and attempting to pass legislation that would require Israelis to sign a loyalty oath or have their citizenship revoked. He has also proposed a bill imposing the death penalty on convicted "terrorists."

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Many are concerned that Lieberman's role in the defense ministry could also stir tensions between the right-wing government and the comparatively moderate military command.

Last week, now-former defense minister Moshe Yaalon resigned, warning of a rising tide of extremism in Netanyahu's Likud party and Israel in general. Environment Minister Avi Gabbay also resigned over the deal with Lieberman, saying: "I do not think it is right... to form an extremist government."

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