Netanyahu scores first coalition partner

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 |  Ryan Jones

Tzipi Livni, former head of the opposition-leading Kadima Party, agreed to bring her new party, Hatnuah (The Movement), into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new governing coalition on Tuesday.

Livni is the first to join the new coalition, after Netanyahu's negotiations with the larger Yesh Atid and Jewish Home parties hit a snag earlier in the week.

During the run-up to the recent election, Livni campaigned hard on the idea that Netanyahu was unfit to lead the nation. Many see her as an opportunist politician who rarely brings any fresh ideas, and instead tends to focus on the perceived mistakes of her rivals.

Nevertheless, Hatnuah's six Knesset seats will provide Netanyahu's combined Likud-Israel Beiteinu faction with a solid base from which to continue building the coalition.

In return, Livni will be the new minister of justice, and will be in charge of the peace process with the Palestinians. Hatnuah's number two, former Labor Party leader Amir Peretz, will be the new minister of environmental protection.

The ideal follow-up would be to bring Yesh Atid and Jewish Home into the coalition, which combined with Hatnuah and Likud-Israel Beiteinu would given Netanyahu's government a commanding 68 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

However, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid have forged something of an alliance, and are refusing to enter the coalition unless Netanyahu agrees to their joint demand that the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community be stripped of its exemption from serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Bennett and Lapid also want the ultra-Orthodox to begin entering the work force in greater numbers, or risk losing their massive welfare payouts, which are provided by the government despite the fact that most ultra-Orthodox do not pay taxes.

It is a policy that would shake the existing unwritten rules of Israeli politics, and Netanyahu is presumably fearful of rocking the boat so severely.

Netanyahu has long been chummy with the ultra-Orthodox political sector, and so is looking at bringing the religious Shas Party into the coalition as an alternative to Lapid and Bennett.

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