Israel poised to unveil new government ahead of Obama visit
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to formally unveil the shape of his long-awaited coalition government on Thursday which will be sworn in just days before a visit by US President Barack Obama.
After nearly 40 days of intensive negotiations with potential partners, Netanyahu was expected to announce a deal between his Likud-Beitenu alliance, the centrist Yesh Atid and the far-right Jewish Home.
He has already signed an agreement with the small centrist HaTnuah party.
“It’s apparently the end. Or actually the start,” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid wrote on his Facebook page, saying the signing of the deal was “likely to be tonight.”
“Barring any last minute hitches, it should be signed today,” said Ashley Perry, spokesman for the hardline Yisrael Beitenu which ran on a joint electoral list with Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud.
“Early next week will be the swearing-in of the new government,” he added, in a ceremony expected to take place on Monday, just two days before Obama arrives for his first visit since becoming president.
Netanyahu had been under huge pressure to present a lineup with a working majority of at least 61 MPs within the 120-seat Knesset (parliament) before a March 16 deadline.
“There is a government,” Likud spokeswoman Noga Katz told AFP, saying details of the lineup would be released “in due course.”
She said Likud-Beitenu’s MPs would convene around midday.
Media reports said the agreement would see Netanyahu heading a coalition with a majority of 68 comprising Likud-Beitenu (31), Yesh Atid (19), Naftali Bennett’s far-right Jewish Home party (12) and HaTnuah (6) headed by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
Israeli daily Haaretz said Netanyahu would formally notify President Shimon Peres during the day with the swearing in likely on Monday.
The 11th-hour deal was widely seen as a victory for political newcomer Lapid, who wrested the influential education portfolio for his party’s number two and who will himself become finance minister.
Although Likud-Beitenu is expected to have a majority in cabinet, Netanyahu’s authority will less than it was in the outgoing government, which included the more malleable ultra-Orthodox parties, who are absent from the new lineup for the the first time since 1984.
“The clash of the Titans over the education portfolio ended with a victory for Lapid,” wrote Haaretz’s political commentator Yossi Verter.
“It was yet another victory, after he had forced Netanyahu to part from his (ultra-Orthodox) partners and imposed a painful reduction in the number of government ministers.”
One of Lapid’s main demands was a reduction in cabinet size, which looks set to see 21 ministers serving under Netanyahu compared with 28 in the previous administration.
“The story here is a story about Lapid’s victory,” Shalom Yerushalmi wrote in the Maariv daily.
“He didn’t appear desperate because he wasn’t. He didn’t appear eager because he really didn’t feel eager,” he added.
“Netanyahu sensed that, exactly the way a man senses when a woman doesn’t really want him… It isn’t that she’s playing hard to get; she really is indifferent.”
According to Channel 2 television, Netanyahu was forced “to give in to the demands of Yair Lapid and came out personally weakened.”
Raviv Drucker, Channel 10′s political commentator said the next government “will have a rightwards bent” both politically and economically, with hardliners set to assume responsibility for several key ministries relating to the settlements.
Jewish Home’s number two, Uri Ariel, is an ultra-nationalist settler slated to take over the housing ministry which plays a central role in settlement construction.
The party, which adamantly opposes a Palestinian state, is also likely to control the parliamentary finance committee which also plays a role in funding the settlements.