Benjamin Netanyahu told his newly sworn-in Cabinet on Tuesday that Israel is committed to reaching a comprehensive peace with the Arab world.
The Cabinet is the largest in Israeli history – 30 ministers and at least another six deputy ministers – even though Netanyahu himself, as opposition leader, had called the relatively large Kadima government “ostentatious and wasteful.”
Defending his seeming about-face, Netanyahu said the cost to the Israeli taxpayer of not having a stable government would be many times higher than the cost of added ministers and ministries.
The coalition was formed in a piecemeal manner. First to sign with the Likud was Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home), headed by Avigdor Lieberman, followed by Shas and the Jewish Home. The Labor Party was a surprise addition at nearly the last minute.
Ongoing negotiations with the National Union went nowhere, especially after Labor joined up, but talks with United Torah Judaism were expected to conclude successfully, perhaps by midweek.
In his inaugural address, the new prime minister said, “We will not let anyone question our right to exist. Israel cannot afford to treat statements against it lightheartedly.”
The speech, in which Netanyahu also said he would do whatever it took to bring home captive soldier Gilad Shalit, was interrupted at several points by angry lawmakers.
Shalit’s parents, as well as the parents of Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman, who was kidnapped and killed by Hamas terrorists in 1994, attended the swearing-in.
In his final address, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset, “I haven’t a shred of bitterness or of anger. I’m stepping down with pride, with my head held high and with a deep sense of gratitude for the privilege I have had to lead the State of Israel.”
Olmert defended his tenure, saying that both the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and the recent Gaza operation were necessary, and that the Lebanon War’s outcome was positive; that his government’s peace efforts were recognized by the international community; and that his fiscal policy bolstered the economy. He also asserted that his Kadima Party, led by Tzipi Livni, would be a responsible opposition.
In a bit of last-minute drama, Silvan Shalom, Netanyahu’s chief party rival, agreed in negotiations immediately before the swearing-in to enter the government as vice premier and regional development minister.
Shalom wanted the Foreign Ministry portfolio or another high-profile position, and had threatened to stay out of the government if he did not receive one. Former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon also holds the position of vice premier. (JTA and INN)