Netanyahu Forms Coalition in Nick of Time

More than 50 days after Israelis went to the polls, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has finally formed a coalition. Despite maintaining his title as Prime Minister, he is emerging significantly weakened from the negotiations.

The final coalition will include the Prime Minister’s Likud-Beiteinu, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”), Naftali Bennet’s Habayit Hayehudi (“Jewish Home”), and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah (“The Movement”). With a 68 seat majority coalition in the 120 seat Knesset, Israel’s new government will remain on thin ice, as any defection would result in political impasse.

With enough power to derail Prime Minister Netanyahu, Lapid flexed his political muscle by demanding that Prime Minister Netanyahu exclude the ultra-Orthodox from the coalition. This marks the first time since 2005 that the ultra-Orthodox have been excluded from the government. With their exclusion, Lapid was able to strike a deal with Netanyahu, Bennet and Livni that is likely to end the ultra-Orthodox draft exemption that allowed Haredi men to exclude themselves from national service by attending yeshiva.  Among his other demands, Yesh Atid leader managed to reduce the size of the Israeli government from 30 ministerial appointments to just 22, and gained the coveted education ministry, largely scene as one of the most important in Israel.

While Israel’s domestic agenda is taking shape, there is little consensus as to what the new coalition might mean for peace negotiations. After the election, Lapid, who had remained mum on the subject during the campaign season, explained that the resumption of peace negotiations would be a precondition to his joining. This seemed all the more likely when Livni joined, as she is a staunch advocate for reengaging in peace talks. Yet, with the inclusion of Bennet, who leads the national religious Zionists, it seems less likely that the next government will make a serious play for new talks. Bennet is a longtime supporter of settlement building, increased expansion of Israeli control in the West Bank, and opposes a two-state solution.

With a new coalition ready to take charge, Netanyahu will welcome U.S. President Barack Obama to Israel next week.  The President is expected to reach out to Israeli citizens, discuss the Iranian nuclear program and the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and lay a wreath on the graves of both Yitzhak Rabin and Theodor Herzl to symbolize his acknowledgement of the fact that Israel is the ancient home of the Jewish people.

Image courtesy of Marc Israel/The Jerusalem post