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Netanyahu forms new Israeli government

Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has finalised the formation of a rightwing coalition government, just 90 minutes before the midnight deadline.

The coalition, consisting of Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, Kulanu and the Jewish Home parties, will be sworn in next week. The agreement itself will be signed in the coming days as several details are yet to be agreed upon.

The late-night deal saved Netanyahu from the almost unthinkable scenario of being forced from office. But it set the stage for the formation of a narrow coalition dominated by hard-line and religious parties that appears to be on a collision course with the US and other allies.

With a slim majority of just 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament, Netanyahu could also struggle to press forward with a domestic agenda.

Negotiations between Netanyahu and the Jewish Home leader, Naftali Bennett, came down to the wire on Wednesday night due to Bennett’s last-minute demands, chief among them that the justice ministry be headed by controversial party member Ayelet Shaked. Netanyahu ultimately agreed to hand over the ministry but will insist on limiting some of Shaked’s powers.

A politician for only two years, Shaked has been very vocal about her contempt for the liberal-leaning supreme court. As part of the deal, she is expected to be a member of the security cabinet and head the ministerial committee for legislation. However, Netanyahu does not want her to head the committee overseeing the nomination of new judges, or have the authority to appoint rabbinical judges.

Netanyahu had wanted to ensure that the communications, public security and justice portfolios remain in the hands of his Likud party, so this was a major concession. However, he had little other choice, as failure to meet the deadline would have meant his political career would have effectively been over. It would have required the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, to ask another Israeli MP to try to form a government. This would have likely been Isaac Herzog, as his Zionist Union party is the second largest.

Senior Likud officials have reportedly said that they will make Bennett pay for his last-minute ultimatums. They plan to work as quickly as possible to broaden the coalition in the hopes to have enough seats to push Jewish Home out. Netanyahu, who is holding on to the foreign ministry now that Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman has pulled out, may offer it to Herzog. Netanyahu can ask entire parties or individual members of parties to join the coalition at any time.

Since the elections on 17 March there have been predictions that Herzog would join Netanyahu in a National Unity government. Herzog, whose party’s election campaign carried the slogan “Anyone but Bibi”, has not explicitly ruled the option out but has said that the party’s natural place is in opposition to Likud.

The coalition talks were first plunged into crisis on Monday by the surprise announcement by Lieberman that he intended to resign and lead his party into opposition, unhappy with the shape of the emerging government. Before Lieberman pulled out, Netanyahu had hoped to forge a rightwing religious lineup with a majority of 67 of parliament’s 120 seats.

Now the ruling coalition has only one majority seat, making it extremely narrow. Analysts say it is unlikely to survive for long, as any Knesset member can block a vote when it comes to the floor, making it extremely difficult to pass the budget or any reforms.

Moshe Kahlon, the chairman of the new centre-right Kulanu party, which ran on the ticket of lowering housing and living costs, has said he would find it very hard to operate in such a narrow government.

Following the election, it had been assumed that Netanyahu would not encounter much difficulty putting together a rightwing government. But talks went on beyond the allotted 28 days to a final 14-day extension period due to both personal animosities on the right and rival agendas.

Source: The Guardian

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