by Ray Fleming

This week's announcement by Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of a closer coalition agreement between his Likud Party and the Yisrael Beiteinu Party might seem at first sight a sensible move towards achieving a majority in the Knessset in elections early next year. However, the fact that Yisrael Beiteinu is led by Avigdor Lieberman puts completely different complexion on Mr Netanyahu's motives. Lieberman and his party are members of Netanyahu's present five-party coalition and he serves as Israel's foreign minister, a role which he has undertaken with the minimum of loyalty to his prime minister. He is an extremist on issues such as the Arab population of Israel (1.6 million) and the growth of Israel's illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. At the the United Nations in September 2010 he put forward his plan for a land-swap that would move as many Arabs as possible out of Israel; but within an hour Mr Netanyahu's office had publicly disowned Lieberman's speech and its contents; there have also been domestic issues on which he has deviated from the policies of the government in which he is a senior minister.

Given his form to date it is probable that Lieberman's influence in a partnership with Mr Netanyahu would make a renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians on a two-state solution and a freezing of settlement construction impossible.