Netanyahu ready to form new government

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 March, 2013, 8:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 March, 2013, 8:55pm

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to inform President Shimon Peres later on Saturday that after 40 days of negotiations with coalition partners he has finally formed a new government.

Eleventh-hour agreements were signed on Friday with the centrist Yesh Atid and far-right Jewish Home parties, which held the key to building a government with a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

Netanyahu is expected to meet Peres after the end of the Jewish Sabbath at sunset but the exact time has yet to be confirmed.

The premier had a legal deadline of Saturday evening to form a government or admit defeat. Completion of the new line-up comes just days before a milestone visit by US President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu had already signed a coalition deal with the centrist HaTnuah party of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who is to be justice minister and Israel’s negotiator in talks with the Palestinians.

The new coalition, which will command a total of 68 seats in parliament, is expected to be sworn in on Monday. At the insistence of Yesh Atid it will be the first in 29 years to exclude ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.

Copies of the coalition agreements published by Netanyahu’s Likud party said Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid would be finance minister and that his party, which has 19 seats in parliament, would also take the education, social services, health, and science and technology portfolios.

Jewish Home, which won 12 seats, receives a newly named economy and trade portfolio along with housing and pensioners’ affairs.

The party, which is close to the Jewish settlement movement, also gets two seats on the ministerial committee dealing with settler affairs.

Yesh Atid, which campaigned for a juster society, gets a place on the committee for the advancement of the status of women.

The allocation of ministries for the alliance of Netanyahu’s Likud party and former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s hardline Yisrael Beitenu has not been announced.

But Netanyahu is expected to handle foreign affairs temporarily, pending the conclusion of Lieberman’s trial on charges of fraud and breach of trust.

The Likud is also to take charge of the defence and interior ministries, according to press reports.