Right-wing faction pulls out of Israeli government

TEL AVIV, January 16 (RIA Novosti) – The right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel, Our Home) party announced on Wednesday it was pulling out of the governing coalition in protest over the struggling prime minister’s peace talks with Palestinians.

Soviet-born party leader Avigdor Lieberman, whose faction appeals to Russian-speakers in Israel, has vehemently opposed negotiations on revising borders with the Palestinian territories. His defection has cut Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s majority in the 120-seat legislature from 78 to 67.

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“I have spoken to the prime minister and gave him written notification of our withdrawal from the coalition and my departure from the Cabinet,” Lieberman, who holds the post of strategic affairs minister, told journalists.

The move has put additional pressure on Olmert, who may face resignation demands when a final report is released on an official inquiry into the disastrous 2006 war with Islamist group Hizbollah in Lebanon. Other factions in the governing coalition have also said they may consider quitting.

Lieberman, a staunch Zionist who has been branded a racist by some Arab lawmakers, carried out his resignation threat after negotiators began on Monday discussing sovereignty over East Jerusalem, and the borders dating back to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

“If we pull back to the 1967 borders, everyone should ask himself, what will happen the following day? Will the conflict stop, will the terror stop? Nothing will change,” he said.

Earlier, Lieberman said his main task in the Cabinet was to hinder the “Annapolis process”, in which Israelis and Palestinians resumed peace talks following last year’s U.S.-sponsored peace conference.

On Tuesday Lieberman met with Olmert, who told him that dialogue with the Palestinians would continue even if the ruling coalition was forced to divide.