Netanyahu struggling to form coalition

Surprise move by Avigdor Lieberman shifts focus to another right-wing Israeli party

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is struggling to form a stable coalition before Wednesday's deadline after the surprise decision of a former ally not to join his government.

The move by foreign minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday means that Mr Netanyahu must rely on the right-wing Jewish Home party to secure a razor-thin majority.

Mr Netanyahu's Likud party emerged from the March 17th election as the biggest faction in Israel's parliament, the 120-seat Knesset, but well short of the majority needed to form a government.

He has until midnight Wednesday to secure the support of 61 Knesset members. If he can't, Isaac Herzog, whose Zionist Union has the second-biggest parliamentary bloc, will be given the opportunity to form a government.


The prime minister's task of forging a coalition with Jewish Home is complicated by his strained personal relationship with its leader, economy minister Naftali Bennett, who once served as Mr Netanyahu's chief-of-staff. Mr Bennett is insisting any further coalition negotiations be conducted only between him and Mr Netanyahu, and has stiffened his conditions for joining the government, Israel Radio said.

Spokesmen for both parties had no comment on coalition talks. 'Who Blinks?' "It's a question of who blinks first, but at the end of the day Jewish Home will join with Likud," said Abraham Diskin, professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“Bennett has no interest in a real crisis that would lead either to new elections, or push Netanyahu to join with a left-wing party like Zionist Union.”

Mr Bennett is pushing Netanyahu to appoint him foreign minister, taking over from Liberman, while handing his party two other cabinet seats, including the Justice Ministry, the Times of Israel said, without saying where it got the information.

He's also seeking more influence over approving West Bank construction, which Jewish Home supports, the newspaper said.

Mr Netanyahu has offered to make Bennett education minister, and give Jewish Home the agriculture ministry and the ministry of culture and sport, the Times said.

‘National Failure’

Mr Netanyahu was left with little choice but to turn to Bennett after Liberman resigned from the cabinet on Tuesday and said his Yisrael Beytenu faction would not join the coalition.

Mr Liberman said deals signed by Likud with other parties showed the new government would be one of “opportunists and conformists” that would not deal strongly enough with the Palestinians.

Opposition chief Mr Herzog said Tuesday that the Zionist Union won’t join a Netanyahu-led government if the prime minister fails to reach a deal with other parties.

“It’s now clear to everyone that we are talking about another government of national failure, one that will be weak and deadlocked,” Mr Herzog said at a meeting of his party’s parliament members.

The prospective new coalition's narrow majority means it will struggle to pass significant measures, said Ofer Kenig, a researcher at Jerusalem's Israel Democracy Institute.

That's especially true of the economic reforms proposed by finance minister-designate Moshe Kahlon, whose newly formed Kulanu party will be the second-biggest faction after Likud.

Still, it won't be easy for the premier's opponents to unseat the government, "because new rules require the opposition to have an alternative ready to take its place, and they are not unified enough to do so," Mr Kenig said.

“A more likely scenario would be Netanyahu reshaping his government down the road, especially if he wants it to accomplish anything.”