By Kaamil Ahmed
JERUSALEM (AA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday defended his decision to appoint a controversial right-wing politician to one of the most senior positions in his cabinet, saying the move was intended to strengthen his fragile coalition government.
Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon officially stepped down from his post and left the Netanyahu’s government altogether on Sunday, saying it had become dominated by extremist elements -- especially after his replacement by the hardline pro-settler Avigdor Lieberman.
"From the outset, when we formed the government, I said that it was my intention to expand the government... We are in the midst of moves to expand the government," Netanyahu said at a Sunday cabinet meeting.
"I think that a broader coalition will help us meet the many challenges facing us and also take advantage of the opportunities," he added.
While the Israeli media is calling the new coalition the "most right-wing in Israel's history", Netanyahu insisted he would still pursue peace talks with the Palestinians, although the peace process has been suspended since 2014.
The Times of Israel reported on Sunday that Netanyahu hoped to finalize a coalition deal with Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party that would add six seats to the single-seat majority that Netanyahu's coalition currently holds.
The news website also reported that Lieberman was expected to drop earlier calls for Palestinians convicted of carrying out violent attacks against Israelis to be executed.
Before Israel’s 2015 election, when the Yisrael Beitenu party lost half of its seats in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), Lieberman had served as Israel's foreign minister.
During the election campaign, the controversial politician had said that Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who were "disloyal" to the Jewish state should be beheaded.