Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman signed a coalition agreement on Wednesday morning after understandings were reached overnight Tuesday on Lieberman's conditions to join the government as defense minister.
"I welcome Avigdor Lieberman and his faction members as important partners to the coalition," Netanyahu said after the signing. "I value his experience, we've worked together before for the security and welfare of the people of Israel."
Netanyahu said the two put their past disagreements aside. "It's no secret we've disagreed with each other, that's part of political life. Sometimes, in the heat of the argument, things were said by both of us that should not have been said. Now, we join hands to help Israel march forward," he said.
"The most important issue is the safety of Israeli citizens," Lieberman agreed. "For this we've made an effort, left everything else aside, and I hope we could truly achieve all we wanted to do."
Netanyahu also spoke about the significance of having a broader government, saying "Israel needs political stability to handle the challenges we face and to take advantage of the opportunities before us."
"I'm committed to advancing a peace process, I'm committed to making every effort to reach an accord," the prime minister said.
He once again called on Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog to join the government as well, "so we can have a broader government, a true unity government that would strengthen the unity among the people."
The Palestinian leadership condemned Lieberman's move into the government.
"The existence of this government brings a real threat of instability and extremism in the region," Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP, adding that the appointment would "result in apartheid, racism and religious and political extremism."
Netanyahu, Lieberman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon met at the Prime Minister's Office for over an hour late Tuesday night in an effort to resolve the disputed issues.
Yisrael Beytenu announced Wednesday morning that as part of the agreement, NIS 1.4 billion will be allocated to the party's coveted pension reform over the course of four years. In addition, NIS 150 million will be allocated to public housing.
Lieberman said on Wednesday morning that the agreements reached with the Finance Ministry were good for everyone. "I think the entire public will gain from this."
Finance Minister Kahlon, leader of the Kulanu party, spoke harshly against the budgetary demands of Yisrael Beytenu, saying that "Kulanu will not allow unruly behavior in any area - not economic, not political, not security. Kulanu will not allow the violation of the principle of equality. Everyone will receive this money - Arabs, Jews, immigrants and veterans. That is our agenda."
Bayit Yehudi's opposition
But that was not the last fire left to put out. Education Minister Naftali Bennett demanded on Monday that the prime minister implement a plan that will address the cabinet's mishandling of Operation Protective Edge and the Second Lebanon War. Until this plan is implemented, the Bayit Yehudi leader said he will not support changes made to the government, namely bringing Yisrael Beytenu into the coalition.
On Wednesday morning, Bayit Yehudi officials said the party will not concede on the demand to appoint a military secretary to the members of cabinet. "This is a demand written in blood, and we will not give it up," one official said.
The appointment of Lieberman to defense minister and close ally Sofa Landver as immigration absorption minister requires the approval of both the Knesset and the government. Bennett has threatened to vote against the appointment if his conditions are not met.
"The prime minister's insistence on carrying on compartmentalizing the security cabinet is hard to understand. We didn't demand jobs or budgets. We demanded to save human lives. This insistence is so much more strange in light of the lessons learned from Operation Protective Edge that found this compartmentalization has made a one-week-long war into a 51-days war, with the cost that it entails," a party official went on to say.
On Tuesday, Bennett elaborated on the reasoning behind his demand in a Facebook post. "In my eyes, the demand is an obvious one, and in general one the prime minister should've pushed for himself. Other cabinet members also believe so, but unfortunately I have to be the 'responsible adult' this time," he wrote.
He went on to explain that "according to the law, the cabinet is the commander-in-chief of the IDF, not the prime minister or the defense minster. My concrete demand is to equip members of cabinet with intelligence and some tools so they could function better, and most importantly—with a military secretary.
"The cabinet military secretary will meet with the different cabinet members (ministers Shaked, Erdan, Deri, Katz and others, myself included) on a regular basis and brief them on what's happening on each of our borders, what is the situation of the enemy, what acquisitions the IDF is making, and more. We could delve into any important topic with him."
Officials in the ruling Likud party were not concerned by Bennett's demand, with one saying "he could quit the government as far as we're concerned."
Minister Yariv Levin, who heads the coalition negotiations on behalf of the Likud, rejected Bennett's demand out of hand. "We're not renegotiating the coalition agreements with any of the partners, including Bayit Yehudi," Levin said.