Jerusalem — He’s had to bite a few bullets to get there, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will lead Israel’s next government.
Barring a last-minute surprise, Israel’s new governing coalition will be sworn in this week: a center-right grouping of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud-Beiteinu faction, the centrist Yesh Atid party, the religious nationalist Jewish Home party, the center-left Hatnua led by Tzipi Livni and the tiny, centrist Kadima.
In total, the coalition will include 70 of the Knesset’s 120 members.
The government’s priorities will be to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, enact budget reform, expand Israel’s mandatory military conscription and lower the cost of living, according to Netanyahu.
“Above all,” Netanyahu said at his weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, the next government must address “the major security challenges that are piling up around us.”
The coalition deal is a bittersweet victory for the prime minister. He won a disappointing 31 seats at the ballot box in January. That divided vote has turned into a divided government that he’ll have to lead with ambitious rivals by his side.
The divisions have grown more intense since the election, as Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett formed an alliance after the vote.
“He’s a much weaker prime minister,” said Hebrew University political science professor Shlomo Avineri. “We see the emergence of two popular leaders who are not constrained by internal party institutions and can dictate to their own parties whatever policies they wish.”
By forming the coalition days before his final deadline of March 16, Netanyahu gains another term as prime minister. And because his party will control the Foreign and Defense ministries – Likud’s Moshe Ya’alon is slated to be the next defense minister – Netanyahu will be able to preserve the status quo regarding security issues and Iran.
And Israelis shouldn’t expect a renewed peace process with the Palestinians. Hatnua supports a two-state solution, while Jewish Home resolutely opposes a Palestinian state, as do many in Likud.
“I don’t think there is any chance of a final-status agreement with the Palestinians,” Avineri said, but “partial agreements” could be possible.