Israel: Following weeks of negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached a coalition agreement with two first-time politicians to set up a government that will contain a mix of secular and nationalist groups but not any ultra-orthodox political parties, which is only the third time since 1977 that such a party will not be included in the governing coalition.
While Netanyahu has made waves in recent weeks for his bellicose statements on the Iranian nuclear program, his new government likely portends a returned focus to domestic political issues. Yair Lapid, one of the political newcomers with whom Netanyahu brokered the agreement, campaigned on a platform that centered on reintegrating the country's ultra-orthodox population into Israeli political life, which currently exempts them from military rule and provides generous subsidies in order for ultra-orthodox men to continue religious study. Lapid will serve as finance minister in the new government, a role which will grant him wide control over the country's budget and places him in a key position to deliver on his promise to end subsidies to the ultra-orthodox.
Given the government's composition, it also appears unlikely that Netanyahu will be able to restart peace talks with the Palestinians. His other major coalition partner, Naftali Bennet, a nationalist who campaigned on a hard-line platform on Jewish settlements, will lead the economy of ministry and trade, and his party will control the Construction and Housing Ministry, which is a key post in the settlement question and one that carries an outsized role in laying the groundwork for talks to restart. Tzipi Livni, a veteran of Ehud Olmert's government, will serve as minister of justice and will head up peace talks with the Palestinians should they resume.
With control over 68 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, Netanyahu's coalition is a fragile one, cementing what was largely seen as a humbling election result for a man who had sought to consolidate power in elections earlier this year. "This coalition is a humiliating defeat for Netanyahu," Eytan Gilboa, an Israeli political scientist, told the Washington Post. "He wanted a very different coalition but couldn't break up the Lapid-Bennett axis. He has a narrow-based government, and at any point Lapid, Bennett, or both, could bring it down."
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