Diplomatic Arena's Reaction to Broadened Coalition Muted

Aside from critical editorials in The New York Times and Guardian, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman's joining of the coalition aroused interest in the international community but did not spark diplomatic protests or angry reactions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, raised the subject in a telephone call on Sunday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who responded with an explanation of the current political situation in Israel.

The main issue raised by foreign statesmen and diplomats was how would the broadening of the coalition affect the chances of a peace process, with the U.S. administration wondering if Lieberman's inclusion in the government would have an influence on its capacity to demonstrate flexibility and promote political initiatives.

With Yisrael Beiteinu in the coalition, U.S. officials asked, how could a government that spoke of a withdrawal from the West Bank and the evacuation of settlements implement such steps?

Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have reassured foreign officials that the government's guidelines will not change with the entry of Lieberman into the coalition, with Livni reminding the officials with whom she spoke that Lieberman had served as a minister in the Ariel Sharon government that approved the road map peace plan in May 2003.

"We have not encountered reactions along the lines of the Israeli objection to the inclusion of [Joerg] Haider's Freedom Party in the Austrian coalition," a political source in Jerusalem said yesterday.