Avigdor Lieberman
Avigdor Lieberman, head of far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a coalition dealReuters

A controversial right-winger has been appointed as Israel's new defence minister after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal to shore up his coalition government. Avigdor Lieberman, a 57-year-old known for his hawkish views, will replace resigning Moshe Ya'alon.

The latter, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, stepped down last week in protest against the prime minister's decision to bring Lieberman's ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party into the government coalition. With its six lawmakers the group reinforced Netanyahu's wafer-thin majority, which previously counted on only 61 of the Knesset's 120 seats.

Speaking after his nomination was announced, Lieberman, who has a reputation for incendiary remarks, vowed moderation. "My commitment first of all is to responsible, reasonable policy," he said. "All of us have commitments to peace, to the final status agreement, to understanding between us and our neighbours."

His appointment was earlier denounced by the Palestinians, with a presidential adviser describing him as a pro-settlement fascist. "I think that bringing a fascist minister who lives in a settlement, this is actually a manifestation of the settlement programme," said Mohammad Shtayyeh, an adviser to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

"All that this Israeli government is interested in is to have more settlers, more settlements and totally shun away from the international effort to end occupation and conflict in the Palestinian territory," Shtayyeh added. The Moldova-born politician, who lives in a West Bank settlement, has served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister in previous Netanyahu governments.