After weeks of tough haggling, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s third government was in the bag Friday, March 15, having finally signed deals with two political newcomers, Yair Lapid (centrist Yesh Atid – Future) and Naftali Bennett (pro-settlement Habayit Hayehudi – Jewish Home). Both insisted on the new lineup excluding the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties from the government for the first time in a decade, stipulating an end to the draft exemptions and welfare subsidies traditionally extended to them.
Shas and Torah Judaism now join Labor on the opposition benches.
The new government will be presented to President Shimon Peres Saturday night and sworn in Monday, March 18, two days before President Barack Obama arrives for a visit.
Although Netanyahu’s Likud-Israeli Beitenu came out of the Jan. 22 election as the largest faction, it only garnered a disappointing 31 seats (in the 120-member Knesset). For a 61 majority, the prime minister was forced to part with a larger slice of government than his own party liked in the lengthy negotiations with Lapid and Bennett.
Yesh Atid, which is committed to improving the lot of the middle class, has gained five ministries, including Finance for Lapid and Education for Shay Piron, who plans major reforms in the curriculum. Members of Lapid’s party are also assigned Social Welfare, Health and Science and Technology as well as the chair of the Knesset committee for promoting equality for women.
Habayit Hayehudi has won Housing, Trade, Religious Affairs and chairs of important parliamentary committees.
Netanyahu’s Likud-Israel Beitenu retains seven ministries, including the powerful defense portfolio, which former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon takes over from Ehud Barak, and Interior – as well as reserving the post of Knesset Speaker for former tourism minister Yuli Edelstein.
The prime minister holds Foreign Affairs in reserve for Avigdor Lieberman pending the outcome of his court case.
Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who leads a small dovish party committed to reaching peace with the Palestinians, joined Netanyahu's coalition last month as Justice Minister and was promised the lead in peace negotiations.
debkafile adds: Although Yair Lapid has snagged the weighty Finance Ministry, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home has won substantial control over a whole range of national economic institutions as well as security bodies.
In addition to landing the Trade portfolio, Bennett is assured membership of the ministerial committee on national security and every economic and defense forum on which the prime minister serves, including the team to be set up to promote the peace process with the Palestinians and the committee for fostering competition in the economy.
Jewish Home’s Uri Ariel, as Housing Minister, will have responsibility for the key Land Authority and his fellow-member Uri Auerbach heads the Senior Citizens Ministry.
This party was also promised the chair of the Knesset Finance Committee and of a special committee for administering the equality of burden blueprint. The Religious Ministry will establish a new Jewish Identity Authority to smooth conversion procedures – bound to be a red flag for the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox establishements.