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After 40 days of tortuous negotiations with potential coalition partners, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has finally formed a government. “As you know I was able to form a government,” President Shimon Peres’s office quoted Netanyahu as saying at a meeting in Jerusalem. Yes, it was indeed an achievement. An achievement that leaves him considerably weak compared to his previous two tenures. Peres compared Benjamin’s intense agony to stitch together a government to labour pains. “You suffered severe labour pains in the process of forming the government and I congratulate for succeeding in time,” the president said jokingly. For the prime minister, it was a caesarian operation. He had a legal deadline of Saturday evening to form the government or admit defeat. Also, the visit of US President Barack Obama is just days away, the first by the US leader, and a government needed to be formed before he landed.
The new coalition commands a total of 68 seats in parliament and is expected to be sworn in on Monday. Last-minute agreements were signed on Friday with the centrist Yesh Atid and far-right Jewish Home parties. Netanyahu had last month signed a coalition deal with the centrist HaTnuah party of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who is to be justice minister and Israel’s negotiator in talks with the Palestinians.
The most important feature of the new government is that it will be weak and handicapped, and will be unable to take any controversial decisions. On peace making with Palestinians, it will be foolish to expect any progress. This is not because the government is weak, but because it lacks the will. Israeli politicians have pushed the peace process off their agenda, and there is nothing that is happening now to push it up to the forefront. Also, experts agree that domestic issues will dominate the new government’s agenda in the coming days, with turmoil in the Arab world and other foreign policy issues getting relegated to the background.
The appointment of former leader of the opposition Tzipi Livni to the role of justice minister with a mandate to push forward with peace negotiations with Palestinians has raised hopes for the resumption of talks with the Palestinians. But that is likely to remain hope. Whatever scant success Livni will make, if at all she makes some success, will be vetoed by the Netanyahu-led radicals. The appointment of Livni is a ploy to hoodwink the rest of the world.
The most significant development for Israelis is that the new government will try to crack down on the immunity enjoyed by ultra-orthodox Jews. Public expectations are high that the new government could bring about real change in what many Israelis see as state pampering of the ultra-Orthodox that gives them little incentive or opportunity to learn skills and contribute to the economy.•