May 21, 2013
Israeli parties close in on coalition deal
Last-minute snag prevents deal from being formalized
JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached a deal yesterday to form a new coalition government, but a last-minute snag over the title of his new partners kept the plan from being formalized for at least one more day.
The new government is expected to try to curb years of preferential treatment for the country’s ultra-Orthodox minority and may push for renewed Mideast peace efforts. But the late-hour disagreement reflects the tough challenges Netanyahu could face keeping his new coalition intact.
It would be the first in a decade to exclude ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties. It includes two new rising stars in Israeli politics who have vowed to end a controversial system of draft exemptions and generous welfare subsidies granted to tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox seminary students.
“The next term will be one of the most challenging in the history of the state,” Netanyahu told his Likud-Yisrael Beitenu parliamentary faction yesterday. “We are facing great security and diplomatic challenges.”
After weeks of deadlock, Netanyahu wrapped up coalition negotiations overnight with Yesh Atid and the Jewish Home, a party aligned with West Bank settlers.
Just hours later however, the two parties — Yesh Atid and Jewish Home — accused Netanyahu of reneging on a promise to appoint their leaders as deputy prime ministers and all sides were in talks to resolve the dispute. Netanyahu’s Likud Party had no immediate comment last night.
The issue was not expected to be a deal breaker and an agreement was still expected to be signed within a day or so, allowing the new government to be sworn in by Monday, just two days before Barack Obama is to arrive for his first visit as US president.
Significant progress on talks on the peace front could prove to be more difficult than other domestic issues, given bitter disagreements among coalition members as well as deep differences with the Palestinians.
Although Netanyahu’s bloc emerged as the biggest faction in the January 22 election with 31 seats, he struggled to form a coalition quickly with the necessary 61-seat majority in the 120-member parliament. His new coalition is expected to control 68 seats.
Herald with AP