Wednesday, May 6, 2015

PM Netanyahu Forms Coalition With Less Than 2 Hours To Spare

Less than two hours before his deadline was set to expire on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hammered out a deal with Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, allowing him to inform President Reuven Rivlin that he had successfully cobbled together a 61-seat coalition — the narrowest of Knesset majorities.

Netanyahu sent Rivlin a letter confirming that his Likud party had clinched a coalition late Wednesday night, after making the announcement. He now has until next Wednesday to swear in his new cabinet.

“I am honored to inform you that I have been successful in forming a government, which I will request is brought before the Knesset for its approval as soon as possible,” Netanyahu wrote in the letter, according to a statement from the President’s Residence. The two men later spoke by phone, and Rivlin said, “I congratulate you on completing the formation of the government. I have received your letter of confirmation, and look forward to the convening of the Knesset as soon as possible, to approve the government.”

In a meeting with Bennett in the Knesset Wednesday night, Netanyahu thanked the Jewish Home party leader for his “efforts during the negotiations and throughout these last weeks.” He also asserted that Israel would have a “strong, stable government,” which he hoped would exceed 61 seats by Wednesday.
“’61 seats is a good number. 61-plus is a better number. But it starts with 61, and we will begin with that,” Netanyahu said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us. Good luck to us and to the Israeli nation.”
“We support you,” Bennett told Netanyahu. “We will assist you with all of our strength for the sake of the country and the government, because we have no other land. This government can complete its term in office. We will work hard to make sure of that.” Bennett said that the two parties’ negotiating teams would “work all night” in order to finalize the fine points of the deal.
Shaked, 39, has only been in politics for two years. Netanyahu and Bennett were negotiating Wednesday over the scope of her authority in the job. Shaked will also have a seat in the key decision-making security cabinet, by virtue of being justice minister.

Netanyahu is likely to appoint several senior Likud colleagues to the security cabinet too, to offset their unhappiness at missing out on top cabinet posts, and to ensure that the security cabinet supports him on key decisions.

Netanyahu was said to be keeping the Foreign Ministry portfolio for himself, in the hope of later giving it to Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog. Israel’s Channel 2 reported Wednesday night that Netanyahu really wanted Zionist Union, and not Jewish Home, in the coalition all along, and offered Herzog the post of deputy prime minister. However, Netanyahu did not want Herzog’s colleague Tzipi Livni in his coalition, and Herzog rebuffed his overtures, the TV report said. Likud and Zionist Union both immediately denied the report.

Netanyahu’s Likud won 30 seats in the election six weeks ago, and he signed up United Torah Judaism (six seats), Kulanu (10) and Shas (seven) for a total of 53. Jewish Home’s eight seats gave him the necessary 61 seats to form a government, albeit one with a slim majority.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri on Tuesday urged Herzog to join the coalition, and enable “a socioeconomic government,” but Herzog has insisted he will lead a spirited opposition.

Netanyahu’s calculations were drastically changed when Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman announced Monday that he was resigning and that his six-seat-strong Yisrael Beytenu party would sit in the opposition.
The Likud formally signed its agreement with Shas on Monday night, giving the ultra-Orthodox party the Economy Ministry, the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, the post of deputy finance minister and the chairmanship of the Knesset Education Committee.
The ruling faction signed coalition deals with Kulanu and United Torah Judaism last week.

After weeks of haggling with potential political partners, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cobbled a governing coalition together Wednesday night. His narrow coalition, dominated by nationalists and religious parties, sets Netanyahu’s government on a collision course on many fronts.

The following is a glance at the challenges ahead as Netanyahu returns to power for a fourth term:

Peace prospects
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians aimed at resolving the conflict with a two-state solution collapsed last year. The US-mediated talks broke down in part because of the issue of Israeli settlement construction in areas the Palestinians demand for a future state.
The Jewish Home party, one of Netanyahu’s key coalition partners, is linked to the West Bank settler movement and adamantly opposes withdrawing from territory for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Many other members of his coalition share the same view, either on security or spiritual grounds.
Ending the conflict is one of Washington’s main foreign policy goals. Remarks by Netanyahu ahead of the March election that a Palestinian state won’t be established on his watch as long as regional violence continues angered the Obama administration and worsened already frayed relations.

Dodging the draft
It was just a few years ago that hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to protest the spiraling high cost of living and a whole host of other social issues, including exemptions from military service for ultra-Orthodox Jews who instead are permitted to study in religious seminaries.
As a reaction to that, Israel’s struggling middle class voted the centrist Yesh Atid party to parliament as the second largest party in 2013. Led by the charismatic Yair Lapid, it promised to get religious males in uniform and heal other social issues.
But that government dissolved after serving about half of its term and has now been replaced with ultra-Orthodox and pro-settlement parties who will work to reverse gains made on the draft and other social issues.
Large chunks of the budget will likely now be allocated to religious causes or to settlements in the West Bank rather than to benefit the middle class in Israel. This risks triggering a public backlash.

Internal differences
With just 61 seats, Netanyahu now has the slimmest of majorities in the 120-seat parliament. Such an arrangement leaves him vulnerable to the whims of his partners or even demands from any individual coalition lawmaker. It leaves little room for maneuver and makes it tough for reforms to pass like the economic initiatives championed by Kulanu, the one centrist party in the coalition.
Such a grouping doesn’t bode well for the longevity of this government.

JERUSALEM, May 6 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has managed to clinch a deal with the nationalist Jewish Home party late Wednesday night, securing a new ruling coalition with a tiny majority in the 120-member parliament.
At a joint press conference, the fourth-time prime minister announced the deal, which was reached hours before the deadline to form the new government that is going to expire midnight Wednesday.
"I'm sure no one is surprised of the fact these negotiations continued with all of the factions, and no one was surprised that it ended on time," Netanyahu said.
"This is not a government for right-wing people or left-wing people or center people but for the entire people of Israel," Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett told reporters.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu, we're behind you, we'll do everything to assist your success and for the success of the government. We've reached a fine and worthy result for all involved. This government can complete a term," Bennett added.
Following the last-minute talks, political sources knowledgeable with the negotiations told Xinhua that Jewish Home hawkish minister Ayelet Shaked will become the next justice minister and will head the ministerial committee of legislation, which is responsible for the government's bill proposals. She will also be a member of the security cabinet, along with Bennett.
The agreement between the parties was not officially inked, as final details will be hashed out in the upcoming days, but they have reached a basic understanding on the Jewish Home's intention to join the government.
Other than the post of the justice minister, the Jewish Home party would receive the post of deputy defense chief, head of the parliament's Constitution, Law and Legislation Committee. It will also take over the Education Ministry, with Bennett serving as minister, and the agriculture portfolio.
A source in the Likud told the Ynet news website that Netanyahu was reluctant to hand over the justice portfolio to Shaked, a hawk known for her opposition to the Supreme Court's authority. Throughout the day, the Likud delegates tried to diminish the future authorities of Shaked, but retreated from their demands as time is running out.
In fact, Netanyahu did not have too many options after Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Israel Beytenu party, announced Monday he would not join the next cabinet.
Lieberman's surprising move shattered Netanyahu's hopes of having a coalition backed by 67 lawmakers and sent him scrambling to form a narrow-majority coalition.
Netanyahu will have until next week to present his new government and have it inaugurated. On Monday, Netanyahu must present the members of his new government to the Knesset plenum. He will still have to make final decisions on how to allocate the portfolios among members of his own Likud party.
Netanyahu's Likud party won 30 out of 120 seats in the parliament in the March 17 elections. President Reuven Rivlin tasked him with establishing the next government.
He received an initial period of 28 days and then an extension of 14 days, to end negotiations. In the past week the Likud party signed coalition deals with the center Kulanu party, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties and, lastly, the Jewish Home party.
Commenting the new coalition on his twitter page, Labor party leader Yitzhak Herzog, whose party gained 24 seats in the parliament, said that the upcoming government "lacks responsibility, stability and governability."
"This is a weak and narrow government which would not promote anything and will be quickly replaced by an alternative of hope and responsibility,"the left-wing politician wrote.

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