Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Netanyahu's Coalition: Who's in, Who's Out

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Netanyahu's Coalition: Who's in, Who's Out

Article excerpt

LATE ON THE EVENING of May 6, before the clock struck midnight, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu needed to finalize a coalition of parties willing to endorse him in order to secure his fourth term as Israel's leader. Two hours before his deadline, he cinched a deal with the hard-line pro-settler group Bayit Yehudi, headed by the charismatic Naftali Bennett. Even with the deal, Netanyahu now hangs by a thread. His coalition includes a scant 61 out of 120 parliament members, down from the 67 votes he thought were in his pocket. The government will convene with a cabinet full of Netanyahu's political rivals and a weak coalition-one of the weakest in Israel's history. If Netanyahu cannot appease every member of his ruling government, he will need to seek support from his opposition, led by the Zionist Camp's Isaac Herzog, in order to survive.

Netanyahu's coalition-building process was thrown into disarray two days earlier, when his chief political ally, Avigdor Lieberman, announced his group and their six votes were out the door. The two split last year over social benefits that Lieberman wanted for his secular-nationalist constituents, but Netanyahu gave them to religious right-wing groups instead.

The deal Netanyahu cut with Bennett means the Likud party is headed even further to the right. The Likud negotiating team dispatched Ze'ev Elkin to lock in the last-minute agreement with Bennett's camp that saved Netanyahu. Elkin is a settler and Knesset chair of the foreign affairs and defense committees. He comes from the far-right strand of Likud. As an unabashed annexationist, he wants to formally incorporate the West Bank into Israel. He does not support any form of Palestinian sovereignty. Elkin's leadership in bringing in Bennett signals an even steeper hard-line turn.

The full contents of the agreement were to be revealed the following week when the new cabinet members were scheduled to be announced and sworn in. Already Israeli correspondents are reporting on the horse trading that took place for Bennett's votes. Haaretz wrote:

"[T]he education budget will be raised by 630 million shekels ($163.4 million), 1 billion shekels ($250 million) will be allocated for raising the salaries of soldiers in their third year, and the Ariel University budget will be raised. In addition, the NGO bill [requiring ministerial and Knesset approval for NGOs seeking a tax exemption for a foreign contribution] will likely be passed, a focus will be made on improving accessibility for disabled in educational institutions, on security measures for transportation in the West Bank, and on strengthening missions in the periphery."

Some cabinet positions were made public immediately. Although Bennett heads the fourth smallest party in the government (eight seats), he ruefully exploited Netanyahu's desperation. A top minister position was reserved for Ayelet Shaked, who is most known outside of Israel for her frequent and repeated xenophobic remarks. Mondoweiss' Ben Norton reported on here May 6, and her calls for a genocide on the Palestinian people.

Another leadership spot went to Bayit Yehudi's Uri Ariel. The current housing minister was upgraded to run the Ministry of Agriculture, a powerful position because it presides over the World Zionist Organization's Settlement Division, a pool of millions of dollars of dark funds used to construct settlements. Haaretz also reported Bayit Yehudi will get the position of deputy defense minister. …

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