JERUSALEM — Israel’s new government was sworn in Monday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday informed President Shimon Peres that he had managed to muster a majority coalition.
The coalition comprises four parties: Likud-Beitenu (31 seats), Yesh Atid (19), Jewish Home (12) and Hatnua (6), for a total of 68 members in the 120-seat Knesset.
On Sunday, Netanyahu divvied up some key Cabinet positions, including naming Likud member Moshe Ya’alon as the new defense minister, replacing Ehud Barak.
The Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties, which posed a united front in coalition talks with Likud, appear set to keep up their alliance after the government takes office in a bid to push through a series of key domestic issues in Netanyahu’s next Cabinet.
Sources in both Yesh Atid and Jewish Home said Sunday morning that the bloc formed by the two parties would not be dissolved with the establishment of a new government. In fact, one source said, the cooperation between the parties ran so deep as to almost qualify them as a single Knesset faction.
“The logic behind this partnership is that as long as we see eye to eye, there’s no reason to end the pact,” a senior Yesh Atid member was quoted by Maariv as saying. “At this point there don’t seem to be any differences, so that’s why it’ll continue.”
The resilience of the deal between the annexationist Jewish Home Party and the ostensibly pro-two-state-solution Yesh Atid has highlighted a deep shift in Israel politics — whose left-right divides were traditionally denoted by a party’s stance on the peace process — to a more domestic agenda, with a special focus on ultra-Orthodox army enlistment and cost-of-living issues.
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, who’s set to become economics and trade minister in the next government, on Saturday night underlined the manner in which that sea change had fundamentally altered the focus of his own party and its messaging.
“Our test will be whether we’ll get up every morning and think about all Israelis or just about how to see to the needs of the religious sector,” he said. “We’re at a crossroads that goes far beyond the confines of the religious sector. Economically, we’ll fight for all Israeli citizens in an effort to lower the price of housing and develop the economy.”
Bennett said the alliance with the Yesh Atid Party, which he said was originally a tactical partnership in the coalition negotiations, had created an opportunity to achieve historic change for Israel. Jewish Home is a hardline Orthodox party, and Yesh Atid is centrist, but they have a declared common agenda in battling to draft the ultra-Orthodox, boost education and work participation in the ultra-Orthodox sector, and reallocate resources fora fairer share of rights and responsibilities across Israeli society.
The pact between Bennett and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid was instrumental in forcing Netanyahu to relinquish his traditional coalition partners, the haredi parties, which were unwilling to accept the duo’s demands regarding the wholesale induction of haredim, who have long enjoyed sweeping exemptions from military service.
Lapid, who’s slated to be Israel’s next finance minister, would be working closely with Bennett on economic policy and development.
Ya'alon, a hardliner in terms of his attitude to the Palestinian Authority as a potential peace partner, is regarded as a relative moderate on Iran — opposed to military intervention before all other avenues to thwart Iran’s nuclear program are exhausted. With all the security challenges facing Israel, it was important to have a man of Ya’alon’s experience in the defense post, Netanyahu said.
In addition to Ya’alon at defense, other key Cabinet appointments include: Foreign Ministry is being held vacant for Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman. Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party signed up to the coalition last month, but Netanyahu then faced weeks of difficult talks with Jewish Home and Yesh Atid over coalition terms. Livni will lead peace efforts with the Palestinians, under Netanyahu’s supervision. However, any territorial withdrawal, the coalition agreements reportedly state, will require a national referendum.
The coalition agreement had seemed a done deal on March 13 but hit a snag the next day after Jewish Home representatives skipped a final meeting with Likud-Beytenu negotiators, over the issue of whether Bennett would be afforded a “deputy prime minister” title.
According to the final deal, both Bennett and Lapid will forgo the mostly ceremonial title.
In return, Bennett will head the Cabinet panel on concentration of wealth and market competition, and his party will head a joint Knesset committee tasked with drafting a new universal military conscription law.