Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clinched deals for a coalition government on Thursday reflecting a shift to the centre in Israel and a domestic agenda that has shunted peacemaking with Palestinians to the sidelines.
In control of 68 of parliament’s 120 seats, the right-wing leader’s new administration is expected to take office next week, just days before a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, his first to Israel since entering the White House.
“There is a government,” said Noga Katz, a spokeswoman for Netanyahu’s Likud party, citing agreements with the centrist Yesh Atid and far-right Jewish Home parties as well as with a smaller faction led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
Netanyahu’s long-time partners, ultra-Orthodox parties effectively blackballed by Yesh Atid and Jewish Home over social benefits and military draft exemptions for religious Jews, will not be in the new coalition born of a Jan. 22 parliamentary election.
The exclusion of the religious parties represents a dramatic political change for an increasingly inward-looking Israel after the surprisingly strong ballot box showings by Yesh Atid, led by former TV news anchor Yair Lapid, and Jewish Home, headed by high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett.
Although Lapid, has advocated a resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians stalled since 2010, his party’s second-place finish was a reflection of a renewed public focus on bread-and-butter issues such as the high cost of living.
“We came into politics specifically to influence health and welfare policies…the time has come to start working,” Yesh Atid lawmaker Adi Kol said on Israel’s Channel 10 television.
Public expectations are high that the new government could effect real change in what many Israelis see as state coddling of the ultra-Orthodox, whose welfare benefits and exemption from the military provide little incentive or opportunity to learn skills and contribute to the economy.