Monday, 19 July 2010

Benjamin Netanyahu's allies 'threaten to bring down Israeli government'

Benjamin Netanyahu's fragile ruling coalition is facing its sternest test since coming to power last year after disgruntled cabinet colleagues threatened to bring down the government.

The Israeli prime minister was allegedly treated to a barrage of taunts and insults from disgruntled members of the hardline Yisrael Beiteinu party during a stormy cabinet meeting to approve the country's 2010 budget.

The confrontation represented an escalation in a row that began when the party's leader, Avigdor Lieberman, was deliberately excluded from secret talks with Turkey last month despite holding the position of foreign minister.

The snub led to a rift between Mr Netanyahu and his mercurial coalition partner, who leads the second largest party in the government after the prime minister's Likud.

Having apologised, Mr Netanyahu may have thought that matters had been resolved -- until he headed into a 24-hour meeting on Friday to discuss the budget.

According to Israeli newspapers, one of Yisrael Beiteinu's five cabinet ministers launched into a tirade at the manner in which Mr Lieberman was being sidelined, saying: "You deceived us. That's not the way to work with us."

Another party official said that Mr Netanyahu was "expediting the end of his days as prime minister."

"If he does not learn to keep his word and to respect his most loyal partners, he will fall from power," the Maariv newspaper quoted the official as saying.

Mr Lieberman, who was not at the meeting because he was abroad, is expected to address a press conference on Monday to air his grievances.

The departure of Yisrael Beiteinu from the government would be welcomed by many in the international community, where Mr Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer with a conviction for assaulting a child, is viewed with suspicion. The foreign minister is known for his outspoken views on Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and Israel's Arab neighbours.

Were he to go into opposition, Mr Netanyahu would be forced to invite the centrist Kadima party into his government or face early election.

Observers believe, however, that Mr Lieberman will avoid leaving the government because he could be more vulnerable to criminal charges arising from corruption investigations being conducted against him.

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