70-Seat Israeli Coalition Close to Finalized

Likud-Beiteinu to Keep Virtually All Foreign Policy Power

by Jason Ditz, March 08, 2013

After weeks of negotiations and accusations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be nearing a final deal for a new government, with a coalition of 70 seats including his own Likud-Beiteinu Party, Yesh Atid, Jewish Home, Hatnua and Kadima making a center-right secular government.

The deal will give Yesh Atid’s leader Yair Lapid the finance ministry, while Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett takes over the trade ministry, meaning materially all of the foreign policy-related portfolios will be reserved for Likud-Beiteinu itself, with the Foreign Ministry in particular being saved for Avigdor Lieberman, who hopes to retake it after his corruption trial. No word yet on who will replace Ehud Barak as Defense Minister, though the prospect of Barak, who left the Knesset, keeping the post has been raised, and Likud’s Moshe Ya’alon is the likely pick if this doesn’t happen.

Lapid’s call for a “smaller cabinet” with fewer minor portfolios could even mean that the one promised foreign policy spot, Tzipi Livni’s role in negotiating peace with the Palestinians, will end up “renegotiated.” Ultimately the differences among the secular parties making up this government on foreign policy are limited, and  are unlikely to signal any real differences from the outgoing government.

The big changes will instead be internal, with Shas moving into the opposition for the first time since 2003, when Ariel Sharon formed a government with Lapid’s father, then leader of the Shinnui Party. This means the loss of the Interior Ministry position for the Ultra Orthodox bloc, and may reduce the emphasis on mass expulsion of Africans, which was the centerpiece of Shas’ election campaign. The policy will likely continue, however, under the new government, but may take a back seat to secular reforms in priority.

This sets the stage for a split opposition, with the leftist Labor Party nominally the “leader” of the opposition, but split virtually down the middle between the leftists and the religious right, which may complicate organizing opposition to the incoming government’s policies.

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