Just Before Deadline, Israel's Netanyahu Forms New Government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shown speaking in Washington in March, announced a new coalition government on Wednesday night. The deal assures Netanyahu of a fourth term, but he has a narrow majority in parliament with a coalition that could be vulnerable to collapse. (AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shown speaking in Washington in March, announced a new coalition government on Wednesday night. The deal assures Netanyahu of a fourth term, but he has a narrow majority in parliament with a coalition that could be vulnerable to collapse. (AP)

With a deadline looming Wednesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cobbled together a new coalition government that gives him the bare minimum of parliamentary seats needed to govern, according to news reports.

The deal assures Netanyahu of a fourth term as prime minister, but it is not the outcome he envisioned when he dissolved his fractious coalition last December and called for early elections in March.

His Likud Party won 30 seats, the most of any party, but it was far short of the 61 needed to form a government. Netanyahu has spent the past six weeks in difficult negotiations, putting together a new coalition that consists of five parties.

However, the coalition has just 61 of the 120 seats in Israel's Knesset, or parliament. Netanyahu was hoping for a larger majority, but was rebuffed by at least one other party and had to announce his coalition by midnight Wednesday. He beat the deadline by just an hour.

Every Israeli government since independence in 1948 has been a coalition and few have managed to survive the full four years they are allotted.

Netanyahu can claim that his new government is more unified politically than his last one. The five parties all belong to the right, in contrast to his previous government, which had centrist parties and Cabinet ministers openly critical of the prime minister.

The new coalition should be more in sync with Netanyahu when it comes to policies that have marked his rule: a tough line with the Palestinians, the expansion of West Bank settlements, and strong opposition to the current negotiations between world powers and Iran on its nuclear program.

But the narrow majority means the coalition will be extremely vulnerable to collapse. If any party decides to drop out — something that happens with regularity in Israeli politics — Netanyahu would have to quickly find another party to replace it or face the prospect of his government collapsing.

"One single party could have a lot of power over whether this government would hold or whether it would fall," NPR's Jerusalem correspondent, Emily Harris, told NPR's program Here & Now.

Netanyahu, one of the longest-serving prime ministers in Israel's history, made a number of controversial statements during the campaign that could set the tone for his new term.

He said a Palestinian state was not possible under the current circumstances, a remark that provoked anger among Palestinians, who have long accused the Israeli leader of avoiding substantive negotiations on a two-state solution.

Netanyahu's frosty relations with President Obama became even more fraught after the Israeli leader spoke before the U.S. Congress in March and sharply criticized the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

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