Updated below (26 Oct.)
It is now a done deal. Avigdor Lieberman will join the Israeli cabinet. The Labor party, whose own internal indiscpline prompted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to seek to broaden the government, now has to determine whether it will remain. Labor leader and Defense Minister Amir Peretz today will seek clarifications as to whether the coalition guidelines that he signed on to after the elections in March still apply. Olmert repeatedly has said that they will not change, and while the Labor party will be split, it will probably remain rather than risk a very uncertain future in opposition. (Polls have not been kind to the party recently.)
Lieberman will get the new portfolio of Minister of Strategic Threats (read: Iran). His Yisrael Beiteinu party is big enough to entitle it proportionally to three or four portfolios.
Senior members of Olmert’s Kadima Party said they thought Lieberman had agreed to this deal because he expects Labor to quit the coalition within a matter of months, after which Yisrael Beiteinu will be able to help itself to the vacant ministries.
Lieberman, who is competing with Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party (of which Olmert was a member till late last year) for leadership of the right, apparently feared losing out if he did not grab what he could now. Likud was briefly flirting with joining the cabinet. (If Labor were to withdraw, then talks with Likud would almost have to resume; if Labor remains, Lieberman has outflanked Netanyahu.)
As part of the condition of Lieberman’s joining the government, Olmert successfully pressured his cabinet to vote Lieberman’s bill to radically alter the executive-legislative structure out of cabinet and into the Knesset. The vote was 12-11, and it is not likely to prosper in the Knesset. (Even less likely to prosprer is Lieberman’s idea of raising the electoral threshold to 10%. Yes, ten percent.)
If anyone doubted that Olmert’s “Convergence Plan” (unilateral withdrawals from occupied territories) was dead, this seals it. Lieberman is one of Israel’s most vocal opponents of the plan.
UPDATE: Labor will remain in cabinet, but the Arab MKs within the party’s ranks are not too pleased with the decision to cooperate with Lieberman (who would like to see Israel’s borders and citizenship laws redrawn to exclude Arabs). The Arab MKs probably will not leave the party, but will join Peretz’s intraparty opposition in next year’s leadership election.