U.S. Says Israel's New Government Raises 'Legitimate Questions'

In a very laconic statement, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman says Israeli coalition will be judged by its actions.

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Avigdor Lieberman, head of far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deliver statements to the media after signing a coalition deal to broaden the government's parliamentary majority, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Avigdor Lieberman, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deliver statements to the media after signing a coalition deal , at the Knesset, in Jerusalem May 25, 2016.Credit: Ammar Awad, Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Just hours after the signing of an agreement between the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, the U.S. responded to the expanding of Israel's governing coalition. In a very laconic statement, the State Department said that the makeup of the new coalition raises questions about the direction of Israeli policy.

"We have also seen reports from Israel describing it as the most right-wing coalition in Israel's history and we also know that many of its ministers have said they oppose a two-state solution," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. "This raises legitimate questions about the direction it may be headed in ... and what kind of policies it may adopt."

Toner however added that the United States will judge the new government based on its actions.

The Prime Minister's Office refused to respond to the comments by the State Department deputy spokesman.

The public American message about the composition of the Israeli coalition came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to soothe the international community regarding the new government's policy. Netanyahu spoke almost every day in the past week about the new government's commitment to the peace process and about his desire to resume the negotiations with the Palestinians.

On Wednesday, after signing the coalition agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu, Netanyahu made this point again. Defense minister-designate Lieberman also tried to convey a reassuring message and said in English at the news conference with Netanyahu that he would conduct a sober and responsible policy, and that he was committed to the peace process.

Toner's statement shows that the Obama administration remains unconvinced by Netanyahu and Lieberman's calming words. The negative American communication about the new government is significant, as in about a week the Middle East Quartet – the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations – is expected to issue a report about the standstill in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and about the situation in the West Bank. The report is expected to include a sharp rebuke of Israel's policy, especially regarding the settlements and the situation in Area C of the West Bank.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Wednesday that instead of signing a coalition agreement with the Zionist Union and advancing a regional diplomatic move, Netanyahu chose to sign a deal with Yisrael Beiteinu.

"Regrettably, Netanyahu blinked and chose to steer his government along with Lieberman and Bennett to a dangerous, radical direction," Herzog said. "We won't see in the Bennett-Lieberman cabinet any step that gives hope, but moves to deteriorate the situation and bring us to another round of pain and bereavement."

Referring to Netanyahu and Lieberman's soothing messages, Herzog said, "Lieberman muttered some words in English about the need for a diplomatic move - not in Hebrew, heaven forbid - and Netanyahu said he's committed and wants to."

"It was all I and myself but nothing about Bennett or Lieberman, about his partners," Herzog added. "Israelis should be concerned over a rightist coalition that will lead them to extremely dangerous places. The leaders who were ready to take responsibility and stretch their hand out don't understand how and in what way Netanyahu could carry out those words, with Bennett on his right and Lieberman on his left."

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