Netanyahu, Bayit Yehudi strike coalition deal just before deadline

The agreement, which was struck just two hours before the final deadline for Netanyahu to cobble together a ruling government, paves the way for a narrow, 61-seat coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Bayit Yehudi chief Naftali Bennett (photo credit: TWITTER / TAL SCHNEIDER)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Bayit Yehudi chief Naftali Bennett
(photo credit: TWITTER / TAL SCHNEIDER)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday night that he had succeeded in forming a government with an hour and a half left before the midnight deadline to build a coalition.
Netanyahu reached an agreement with Bayit Yehudi that will give the party the Education and Diaspora Affairs portfolios for its leader Naftali Bennett. MK Uri Ariel will be agriculture minister and MK Ayelet Shaked justice minister. Bennett succeeded in pressuring Netanyahu to give Shaked the Justice Ministry, because a coalition could not be formed without Bayit Yehudi’s eight Knesset seats. She was originally going to be given the Culture and Sports Ministry.
The Likud tried unsuccessfully to prevent Shaked from entering the security cabinet despite the justice minister automatically being in that influential body by law. The Likud also did not succeed in preventing Shaked from heading the powerful Ministerial Committee on Legislation.
“It is not a government for the Right or the Left but for all of the people of Israel,” Bennett said. “I had a good conversation with the prime minister and told him I would be happy to enter a nationalist government under his leadership. I told him we will stand behind him and we will work with all our strength help the government and the country succeed.”
Bennett said he thinks the government can complete its tenure, which is set to end in November 2019. The new government is expected to be sworn in on Monday. Netanyahu said no one should be surprised the process of forming a government succeeded. The prime minister reiterated his desire to expand the coalition beyond its current 61 MKs.
“We will build a government that is strong and stable for the people of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “We have work to do.”
Rivlin told Netanyahu he received his letter formally announcing that he had formed a government and wished him well in the final stages of the process, which will be completed next week.
Earlier on Wednesday, Ariel tried to pressure Bennett to give the Justice portfolio to him instead of Shaked. His Tekuma faction inside Bayit Yehudi has two MKs, which is enough to bring down the government in a coalition of 61 lawmakers.
The Likud denied a report on Channel 2 Wednesday night that Netanyahu had offered the Foreign Affairs portfolio to Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog but a deal was not reached because the prime minister insisted that MK Tzipi Livni be left out of the coalition.
“Neither the prime minister nor any of his associates offered or guaranteed Herzog anything,” a Likud spokesman said.
Herzog released a statement calling the new government "the weakest, narrowest, and most prone to extortion coalition in the history of Israel." He said giving the Justice Ministry to Shaked proved Netanyahu cared more about his political survival than the good of the Israeli people.
Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson blasted the new government, saying that it would threaten “the legal establishment, democracy and the weakest sectors of society. He expressed hope that the new government would be overthrown and replaced by a government led by his party in the current Knesset without needing an election.
Likud MK Danny Danon defended Shaked, saying she would be “an excellent justice minister.” Danon advised her to “ignore the pressure from the media and the Left and do what is good for the people of Israel.”
Danon pointed out that when Livni was appointed justice minister, the fact that a woman received the job was praised in the media. He said he was glad there would be a woman in the security cabinet. Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz complained that despite high profile protests of Ethiopian immigrants over the past week, none of the parties that joined the coalition requested the immigrant absorption portfolio vacated by Yisrael Beytenu MK Sofa Landver.
“This testifies to lack of seriousness in handling immigration and absorption,” Peretz said. “The Ethiopian immigrant community should continue to push for a national commission of inquiry to investigate the failure of Israeli government in absorbing them properly.”
Danon said he would like a socioeconomic portfolio such as absorption or welfare. Danon lashed out at former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, whose resignation from the cabinet took effect Wednesday afternoon.
“It will be weird to see Liberman sitting in the opposition with [Balad MK] Haneen Zoabi,” Danon said. His behavior was clearly calculated. We will have to learn from what happened with Liberman. We will have to change the electoral system.