Netanyahu forms government in Israel after major concessions

Far-right Jewish Home party agrees to join coalition after securing justice portfolio

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: unless he can negotiate  a national unity government in the coming months most analysts believe his fourth term as Israeli prime minister will be his shortest. Photograph: Nahem Kahanamenahem/APF/Getty Images

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: unless he can negotiate a national unity government in the coming months most analysts believe his fourth term as Israeli prime minister will be his shortest. Photograph: Nahem Kahanamenahem/APF/Getty Images

 

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu managed to cobble together a narrow government tonight, a few hours before a midnight deadline, but only after being forced to make significant concessions to all his coalition partners.

Negotiations went on into the night before the far-right Jewish Home agreed to join the coalition after Mr Netanyahu reluctantly agreed to its demand to receive the justice portfolio.

After the March 17th elections Mr Netanyahu, who defied the pollsters to win a convincing victory, confidently predicted he would be able to form a right-wing, religious coalition within two to three weeks. He failed to do so within the allotted 28 days and was required to ask president Reuven Rivlin for a two-week extension, which expired tonight.

The Jewish Home’s eight seats gave Mr Netanyahu a majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. The razor-thin majority is a nightmare for Mr Netanyahu and unless he can persuade the centre-left Zionist Union to join a national unity government in the coming months most analysts believe his fourth term as Israeli prime minister will be his shortest.

The potential coalition Mr Netanyahu was trying to build – made up of all the religious and right-wing parties along with the new centrist Kulanu – had 67 Knesset members. However, on Monday foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman dropped a bombshell, announcing that his far-right Yisrael Beiteinu was going into the opposition.

Jewish Home immediately upped the ante, telling negotiators from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party that without the justice ministry it would not join the government.

Mr Netanyahu had no choice but to give in to the Jewish Home and hand over the justice ministry, which he had been determined to keep for his Likud party.

The move is highly controversial as the Jewish Home has been at the forefront of a campaign to reduce the powers of the judiciary; it views the supreme court as a bastion of left-wing elitism.

Zionist Union Knesset member Nahman Shai said giving the Jewish Home the justice ministry was “like giving a pyromaniac the fire brigade”.

A narrow government with a majority of just one Knesset member will be hard- pressed to push through any significant economic reforms or major diplomatic initiatives.

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, Israel’s new finance minister, admitted it will be very difficult to pass meaningful reforms in the housing sector with a coalition of just 61 Knesset members.

“Similarly, it will be difficult to govern the country in any sort of normal manner with such a government,” he said.

Israel has been in a state of political paralysis and unable to pass a budget since Mr Netanyahu opted for early elections in December. The last thing the country needs at this juncture is a protracted period of more political uncertainty.

Mr Netanyahu’s only way out may be to tempt Labour leader Yitzhak Herzog into a broad-based coalition , without his Zionist Union partner Tzipi Livni, by offering him the foreign ministry and rotation of the premiership.