A precarious coalition is formed by Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel

Ultranationalist Jewish Home party demands a high price and gets the justice ministry

It is unlikely, however difficult, that whoever gets to form a government in London in the next days will have to face quite as tortuous – or torturous – a coalition-building process as has gone into Binyamin Netanyahu’s fourth government. And all to create before a legal deadline expired, a fragile Likud-led coalition resting on the barest of majorities, one vote in a Knesset of 120.

In reality Israel's precarious new government is still a work in progress whose survival will depend on the PM's ability to persuade at least one more party to join him. "To a great extent, Netanyahu didn't succeed in forming a government, but has bought time to form a different government," one political observer told the paper Haaretz. But he is running out of potential partners. Mr Netanyahu had struggled to put together a coalition for two months after winning a comfortable, albeit surprising, election victory on March 17th – Likud took 30 seats to the centre-left Zionist Union's 24 – and then former ally, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party, abandoned him this week.

The result was a humiliating, belated discussion with the ultranationalist Jewish Home party and a concession to its demand for the justice ministry. It will also get education and agriculture, key to funding controversial settlements. The final details of the agreement are still being worked on, but with Jewish Home, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, and Kulanu, a centrist faction, Mr Netanyahu’s Likud will have its barest of majorities.

That precariousness is likely to give Jewish Home and the small parties in the coalition considerable policy leverage – the party, which believes Israel should annex the West Bank occupied territories, seems certain, for example, to push for the expansion of Jewish settlements in the territories, a strategy likely to increase Israel's political isolation internationally.


Jewish Home also strongly supports Mr Netanyahu’s attempt to define Israel constitutionally as the nation-state of the Jewish people, a policy sharply criticised on the left and by the country’s Palestinian community as a breach of Israel’s founders’ commitment to equal citizenship. And its determination to constrain what it sees as a left-wing dominated judiciary, facilitated by its control of the justice ministry, is also likely to prove politically explosive.

That reality makes talk of the Zionist Union joining the coalition most improbable – there are press reports of secret discussions along these lines, denied by party leader Yitzhak Herzog who has said he is happy to remain in opposition. And the present coalition make-up also makes unlikely the possibility of a resumption of talks with the Palestinians, a key demand of Zionist Union. Israel's friends internationally will view the installation of "Netanyahu IV" most glumly.