- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2015

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed a victory — of sorts — by beating Wednesday’s deadline to form a new Israeli governing coalition, but his razor-thin majority in the Knesset and the strong rightward lean of his governing allies could spell trouble both at home and on the world stage in the days ahead, analysts warned.

“I’m sure no one is surprised that the negotiations took such a long time with all the different parties, but no one is also surprised that the negotiations are completed,” Mr. Netanyahu said at a press conference following the establishment of a majority coalition led by his conservative Likud Party late Wednesday night.

However, as the dust settles in Tel Aviv following the last-minute deal with Orthodox-Nationalist Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, many are uncertain that the new government — with just a 61-vote majority in the 120-seat Knesset — can be effective, let alone successful, in the long run.

The coalition is “getting off to a very rocky start,” said Brookings Institution fellow Natan Sachs. “Netanyahu hoped for a far more stable coalition and one that did not depend on every individual member of the Jewish Home or other parties. With a razor-thin majority of one, he is beholden to every member of his coalition.”

“The Likud will now likely try to enlarge the coalition by inviting opposition parties in, … but it’s not clear that it will succeed in doing so,” he added.

Mr. Netanyahu had until Wednesday to form a government, according to Knesset election rules. If he had failed, President Reuven Rivlin would likely have gone to runner-up Isaac Herzog, leader of the center-left Zionist Union. After seven weeks of talks, Mr. Netanyahu informed the president of the deal via telephone just 45 minutes before the midnight deadline.


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Netanyahu simply miscalculated,” said Bar-Ilan University politics professor Eytan Gilboa. ” … Nobody in his right mind believes that this will hold for even a short time.”

The coalition will come at a cost to Mr. Netanyahu’s and Likud’s influence in the Knesset, said Mr. Sachs, with key ministries promised to the smaller parties who could theoretically bring down the government at any time if their demands are not met by the prime minister. One upshot of the dealmaking is that Ayelet Shaked, a top official of Jewish Home party, will become justice minister and the party will also chair the judiciary committee of the Knesset.

Ms. Shaked, 39, will likely face intense scrutiny in her new position. The future minister also came under fire during last summer’s conflict in Gaza when opponents accused her of calling for a genocide of the Palestinian people. Ms. Shaked rejected the accusations as “blatant lies” and “militant, leftist propaganda.”

Mr. Netanyahu, who called the snap elections in December in a bid to increase his political base, will face renewed pressures on other fronts.

The Israeli Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank, sent an open letter to the prime minister urging him to keep his campaign promises to reform the electoral system.

“The emerging narrow coalition may very well be paralyzed and unable to address the fundamental challenges facing the Israeli economy and society,” wrote IDI president Yohanan Plesner, a former member of the Knesset.

The challenges won’t just be on the domestic side.

Palestinian groups predicted the new government would mean continuing conflicts over settlement policy and the lack of progress on peace talks. President Obama, who was slow to congratulate Mr. Netanyahu after his strong showing in the March elections, issued a statement Thursday through press secretary Josh Earnest welcoming the new government.

“We also look forward to continuing consultations on a range of regional issues, including international negotiations to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and the importance of pursuing a two-state solution,” the statement said.

Eitan Haber, senior political commentator for the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, agrees, and wrote that “an overtly right-wing government, such as the one that is going to be sworn in next week, will have to fight nearly the entire world diplomatically. And quite possibly [it] will also have to fight militarily against Hamas in the south, Hezbollah in the north and various Islamic terrorist groups that might try to disrupt peace on the Golan Heights.”


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