THE prospect for any kind of dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities was seriously reduced when prime minisiter Ehud Olmert of Israel brought into his cabinet one of the most extreme opponents of any accommodation with the Palestinians. Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel, Our Home) has said that Israeli Arab members of the Knesset who communicate with Hamas, the elected government of Palestine, should be executed. He is also on record as believing that Israel's democratic system hampers the government's freedom of action and he was opposed to the pull-out from Gaza. It would be worrying enough to know that Mr Lieberman is joining the Kadima coalition but the fact that he is being given cabinet responsibility for “strategic threats to Israel” is alarming; in the past he has advocated bombing Tehran and Egypt's Aswan Dam. Mr Olmert's coalition has been in a shaky state since the unsuccessful campaign in Lebanon and he needed to shore it up ahead of key budget votes later this year in case of defections from Labour, his principal partner. With Mr Lieberman's eleven seats, Kadima now has 78 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. Even so, Mr Olmert has paid a high price for his security. He has allied himself with an extremist, a man often referred to in Israel as a “facsist racist”, and in doing so has narrowed his options for any progress in talks with the Palestinians.


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