Netanyahu’s coalition sure to strain US relations

Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and the head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett. Picture: Getty
Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and the head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett. Picture: Getty
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BENJAMIN Netanyahu has put himself at the helm of a hardline Israeli coalition that appears to be on a collision course with the United States and other key allies.

The prime minister reached a deal with the nationalist Jewish Home party shortly before a midnight deadline, clinching a slim parliamentary majority and averting an embarrassing scenario that would have forced him from office.

But with an administration dominated by hardliners who support increased West Bank settlement building and oppose peace moves with the Palestinians, he could have a tough time rallying international support.
Controlling just 61 of 120 parliamentary seats, the narrow 
coalition could also struggle to press forward with a domestic agenda.

After Mr Netanyahu’s Likud Party won elections on 17 March with 30 seats, it seemed he would have a relatively easy time forming a coalition and serving a fourth term as prime minister.

But the six-week negotiating process turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated as rival coalition partners and members of Likud jockeyed for influential cabinet positions.

“I am sure nobody is surprised that the negotiations continued with all the factions and nobody is surprised it ended at the time it did,” Mr Netanyahu said.

He vowed to install “a strong and stable government for the people of Israel” by next week, yet also hinted he would court additional partners in the near future.

“Sixty-one is a good number, and 61-plus is an even better number,” he said. “But it starts at 61 and we will begin. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

The coalition talks stalled this week when foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, a long-time political partner of Mr Netanyahu, unexpectedly stepped down and announced his secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party was joining the opposition.

That left Mr Netanyahu dependent on Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, a former aide with whom he has a rocky ­relationship.

With Mr Bennett driving a hard bargain, the talks stretched throughout the day and well into the night before Mr Netanyahu called president Reuven Rivlin, as required by law, to announce the deal.

Mr Netanyahu had until midnight to speak to Mr Rivlin, otherwise the president would have been required to ask another politician to try to form a ­government.

But analysts do not expect the new government to last long or accomplish much.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, head of the centrist Zionist Union, called the coalition “a national failure government”, an “embarrassing farce” and “the narrowest in Israel’s history”.

During the campaign, Mr Netanyahu angered the White House when he said that he would not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state on his watch.