JERUSALEM – After almost two months of tense negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition government was sworn in on Monday evening, less than 48 hours before the much-anticipated arrival of President Obama.
Israel’s 33rd government will control 68 of 120 seats in the Knesset. The government, with the right-leaning Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu joint list as the largest single faction with thirty-one seats, will include the centrist Yesh Atid (nineteen seats), the religious HaBayit HaYehudi (twelve seats) and the center-left Hatnua (six seats).
Israel’s new defense minister is former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon of Likud, who succeeds Ehud Barak, a former prime minister who held the post for six years. Ya’alon is expected to face budget cutbacks in the defense establishment, along with the usual array of security challenges – led by the Iranian nuclear threat.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, a political newcomer and former TV news anchor, is the new finance minister. Among other policy proposals, his party’s platform calls for closing the gap between society’s economic sectors and for all segments of the public to share the burden of military service.
Naftali Bennett, head of HaBayit HaYehudi and former aide to Netanyahu, is not only the new government’s minister of economics and trade but will also lead a cabinet committee that will seek ways to reduce the cost of living and break up the concentration of economic power. The cabinet committee is expected to focus on limiting the number of tiers of corporate control that consortiums could maintain.
Netanyahu will serve as acting foreign minister until the legal fate of former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman is decided. Lieberman, the Yisrael Beiteinu leader, is awaiting trial on corruption charges.
Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister and Kadima Party chief, has been tapped as justice minister. Along with running one of the country’s most powerful ministries, Livni has been assured by Netanyahu of having a major voice in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Hatnua was the first party to sign on as a coalition partner in the new government.
Other key ministerial portfolios went to the Likud’s Gideon Sa’ar (Interior); Rabbi Shai Piron of Yesh Atid (Education); HaBayit HaYehudi’s Uri Ariel (Housing); Yael German of Yesh Atid (Health); the Likud’s Yisrael Katz (Transportation); and Yitzhak Aharonovich of Yisrael Beiteinu (Internal Security).
Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich, having won fifteen seats in the January 22 election, will lead the opposition in the Knesset. She will be joined in the opposition by the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, the leftist Meretz Party, center-left Kadima, and three Arab parties.
Political infighting caused a delay in the final makeup of the government. For instance, former finance minister Yuval Steinitz, originally chosen by Netanyahu to be the new minister of energy and water, was forced to become minister of intelligence, international relations and strategic affairs. This was due to former foreign minister Silvan Shalom’s demand that he be appointed to a senior cabinet position.