Last updated: 15 March, 2013

New Israeli government formed, says Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed deals with key coalition partners on Friday, forming a new government just before a deadline and a milestone visit by US President Barack Obama.

The alliance of Netanyahu’s Likud party and former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu had been locked in intense negotiations for 40 days with the centrist Yesh Atid and far-right Jewish Home parties, which held the key to building a government with a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

“The prime minister welcomes the coalition agreements that have been signed between the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu, and the Yesh Atid party and the Jewish Home,” Netanyahu’s Likud party said in a statement, about an hour before the start of the Jewish Sabbath which runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

“On Saturday evening, the prime minister will inform President Shimon Peres that he has completed the task” of forming a government, it said.

“We shall work together in cooperation in the new government for all of Israel’s citizens,” it quoted Netanyahu as saying.

Netanyahu had a legal deadline of Saturday evening to come up with a coalition or admit defeat.

He had previously signed 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.

With Yesh Atid and Jewish Home now on board, the coalition will command a total of 68 parliamentary seats.

The new cabinet is expected to be sworn in by parliament on Monday, 48 hours before Obama’s arrival.

Copies of the coalition agreements published by the Likud confirmed that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid would be finance minister and that his party, which has 19 seats in parliament, would also take the education, social services, health, and science and technology portfolios.

On his Facebook page Lapid answered what he said were expressions of concern by well-wishers fearing that Netanyahu had set him up for a fall by offering him the treasury ahead of what is expected to be a cost-cutting budget and a period of stilted economic growth.

“I know of course the sophisticated thesis that Netanyahu offered me the ministry so that I would fail, so that he could get rid of a potential rival, but like most conspiracy theories, this one does not hold water,” he wrote.

“Even those who do not believe Netanyahu should know that if the minister of finance fails, he takes the prime minister with him. If we do not succeed in extracting the Israeli economy from the deep mud it is in… Netanyahu will be hurt no less than I.”

Jewish Home, which won 12 seats, receives a newly named economy and trade portfolio along with housing and pensioners’ affairs.

The allocation of ministries for Likud-Beitenu was not detailed, but Netanyahu was expected to handle foreign affairs temporarily, pending the conclusion of former foreign minister Lieberman’s trial on charges of fraud and breach of trust.

Lieberman’s hardline Yisrael Beitenu ran on a joint ticket with Netanyahu’s Likud, winning 31 seats.

The Likud was also to take charge of the defence and interior ministries, according to press reports.

The Likud said coalition members pledged, among other things, to pursue “a peace agreement with the Palestinians with the aim of reaching a political agreement that will end the conflict.”

If such a deal could be negotiated, it would be put to the cabinet, parliament and a national referendum for approval, the party said.