Netanyahu Excludes Religious Parties from Ruling Coalition

Centrists are expected to replace right-wing religious parties in Israel’s government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel speaks with President Barack Obama of the United States in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 5, 2012
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel speaks with President Barack Obama of the United States in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 5, 2012 (White House/Pete Souza)

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has excluded religious parties that propped up his previous governments from his latest coalition in order to pull in centrists who emerged with strong support from January’s election.

The parties led by former television personality Yair Lapid and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni won nineteen and six seats in the Knesset, respectively, appealing mainly to middle-class voters with promises to overhaul the education system, reduce a housing shortage and abolish the military draft exemption for Jewish seminary students.

Released from the right

Many in Netanyahu’s conservative party favor abolishing the exemption of Orthodox Jews from military service, but the prime minister was unable to do so while he depended on fringe religious parties for his majority.

The same parties balked at Netanyahu’s call for deeper spending cuts, fearing they would reduce state stipends for religious institutions.

Israel’s government deficit rose to 4.2 percent of gross domestic product last year. Netanyahu is a fiscal conservative who has promised to reduce the shortfall.

The premier’s Likud, which merged its list with the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu in an attempt to consolidate the right-wing vote, got 31 out of 120 seats in the last election, eleven fewer than the two parties held separately.

Bennett’s gain

Likud‘s loss was Naftali Bennett’s gain. His nationalist Jewish Home won twelve seats. Many conservative voters switched to Jewish Home because it more staunchly defends settlement construction in West Bank territory that is claimed by the Palestinians.

Even if Lapid and Livni favor resuming peace talks with the Palestinians, Bennett, who promised before the election that he would do anything “to prevent a Palestinian state from being founded within the land of Israel,” will join the coalition as well. Israeli media speculate he will get the industry and trade portfolio.

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