Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a Likud-Beitenu faction meeting
Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud-Beitenu faction meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 11, 2013. Photo by Reuters
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Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman was sworn in as foreign minister on Monday, after the Knesset approved his appointment by a vote of 62-17, with one abstention.

At a joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu faction meeting earlier in the day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Lieberman’s return to the cabinet table. “I’ve missed him there,” Netanyahu said. “We have a lot of work to do, big tests and big challenges. It’s important that we cooperate.”

But, during the debate preceding the vote, several MKs lambasted the appointment. Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On, for instance, said Lieberman’s appointment “is like planting a bomb in the diplomatic process, which is treading water. It’s a sign that Israel’s face isn’t turned toward peace.”

“Lieberman is persona non grata in other countries,” Gal-On added, charging that during his previous term as foreign minister, “he brought Israel’s foreign policy to new lows and turned it into an isolated pariah state. His appointment to this job will further worsen Israel’s poor relations with its allies and its situation in the international community.”

MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) urged the Palestinians to break off negotiations with Israel in response to the appointment, while MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) termed the appointment a fitting capstone to “a government where everyone competes over who will be more fanatic.”

Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud), who represented the government during the debate, retorted, “After hearing the opposition during today’s debate, I understand why we’ve been without peace for 100 years now... it’s Avigdor Lieberman’s appointment as foreign minister.”

At the end of the debate, a storm erupted when MK Hilik Bar (Labor) announced that he disagreed with several of his colleagues on the left who “called the minister-designate a fascist and a racist.” This breaking of ranks infuriated Gal-On, and the two embarked on a lengthy and vocal argument.

Also on Monday, MK Zeev Elkin (Likud) submitted his resignation as deputy foreign minister, as required by law when a new minister is appointed. It’s still not clear whether Lieberman will reappoint him, or whether Elkin will instead take over Lieberman’s previous job as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee – a job also coveted by MKs Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) and Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud).