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Israel Forms Narrow Right Wing Coaltion - 61/120 Seats


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From Wall Street Journal:

TEL AVIVPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cemented a conservative and religious coalition that will let him remain Israels leader for a fourth term, but afford little room to safeguard his governments survival.

In an unexpected epilogue to his Likud Partys election landslide in March, the Israeli leader became embroiled in prolonged negotiations with coalition partners that were further complicated by a former allys desertion this week.

The talks succeeded shortly before the legal expiration of his mandate to form the government midnight on Wednesday, but left Mr. Netanyahu with a badly truncated majority and an empowered Jewish Home party, a religious nationalist group which held out to gain concessions.

No one was surprised that the negotiations were drawn out with all the parties, but no one was surprised that it ended on time, Mr. Netanyahu said at a news conference alongside Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett.

The new government members conservative positions are likely to complicate Mr. Netanyahus relations with the U.S. and Europe at a time when Israel faces increasing isolation over stalled negotiations with the Palestinians and its opposition to nuclear diplomacy with Iran.

The result came after the prime minister called early elections in December with the hope of forming a more cohesive and stable government. Instead, he has a razor-thin majority with the potential for even more instability.

The new 61-member coalition is Israels smallest postelection government in 34 years and leaves Mr. Netanyahu with little margin for error in the 120-seat Knesset.

The parliamentary opposition will have a hard time toppling the governmentit is entirely right-wingbut it could implode if just two Knesset members decide to part ways with the coalition. Passing laws will require unanimous consent.

The present government is going to be even more dysfunctional than the last government given how narrow it is, said Sam Lehman Wilzig, a political-science professor at Bar Ilan University. Something has got to give.

Mr. Netanyahus new government consists of his 30-seat Likud Party, the center-right Kulanu party with 10 seats; Mr. Bennetts eight-seat Jewish Home Party, and two ultra-Orthodox parties, which together control 13 seats.

Political commentators and opposition politicians criticized Mr. Netanyahu for allowing political partners win too many concessions in the negotiations.

Netanyahu didnt establish the government he wanted, said Israel Radio political commentator Yoav Krakovsky. He settled for a government that was forced on him by the coalition partners.

Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition Zionist Union Party, said Mr. Netanyahu had given into extortion during the talks. A weak and narrow government that wont advance anything, Mr. Herzog called it.

Mr. Netanyahus struggle to form a coalition, even after requesting an extension, presages the kind of disputes that may lie ahead.

No coalition in Israel has leaned so far to the right since Mr. Netanyahus first government in 1996, which rose to power with promises to slow down the Palestinian peace process.

The leaders new government will likely face pressure from the international community to halt new settlements in contested territories and accelerate peace negotiations with Palestinians. Mr. Netanyahus coalition members favor the opposite.

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