Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 19:05 pm (KSA) 16:05 pm (GMT)

Netanyahu seeks to reassure Egypt over FM pick

Lieberman's statements about Israeli Arabs that have earned him the label of "racist" from critics (File)
Lieberman's statements about Israeli Arabs that have earned him the label of "racist" from critics (File)

Israeli premier-designate Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to reassure Egypt over the choice of a firebrand ultra-nationalist as foreign minister in his new cabinet, his office said on Sunday.

The key post in Netanyahu's government is set to be filled by the outspoken Avigdor Lieberman, who last October said Mubarak could "go to hell" if he continued to decline to visit the Jewish state.

"Close aides of Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lieberman have met with Egyptian officials to explain to them that the arrival of Mr. Lieberman at the foreign ministry should not be a reason for tension between the two countries," a statement from Netanyahu's office said.

This week Israel and Egypt will mark 30 years since the signing of their landmark peace treaty, and the choice of Lieberman for the foreign ministry post has, according to the Israeli press, ruffled feathers in Cairo.

 He wants to talk to us? Let him come here. He doesn't want to talk to us? He can go to hell 
Avigdor Lieberman to Hosni Mubarak

Addressing the Israeli parliament last October during a special memorial service for a far-right minister killed by Palestinian fighters in 2001, Lieberman said of Mubarak: "He wants to talk to us? Let him come here. He doesn't want to talk to us? He can go to hell."

After Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres apologized to Mubarak for the comments, calling them "unfortunate," "useless" and harmful," Lieberman slammed them for acting like a "battered wife" with Cairo.

Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party won 15 seats in the February election, becoming the third-largest in parliament.

An immigrant from ex-Soviet Moldova, Lieberman has built his reputation on controversial statements about Israeli Arabs that have earned him the label of "racist" from critics and a reputation of a needed strong hand from supporters.

Netanyahu, who has until April 3 to form a government, has so far signed his sole coalition agreement with Yisrael Beitenu, agreeing to name Lieberman as foreign minister and giving the party four other ministries.

That arrangement may change, however, if Netanyahu succeeds in his goal of forming a broad-based government that would include either the centrist Kadima party or center-left Labour.

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