Israel’s Netanyahu Signs Deals with Centrist, Orthodox Parties

Israel’s hawkish prime minister seems to be building his most right-wing government yet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin of Israel attend an Independence Day ceremony in Jerusalem, April 23
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin of Israel attend an Independence Day ceremony in Jerusalem, April 23 (GPO/Kobi Gideon)

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed coalition deals with orthodox Jewish parties and the centrist Kulanu on Wednesday, putting him on track to find a right-wing majority in parliament.

Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party won the election in March but fell short of an absolute majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

The hawkish leader, who said on the eve of the election that he could not imagine a Palestinian state being formed under his watch, previously governed in coalition with two liberal parties as well as right-wing nationalists. But the religious parties propped up his earlier governments and would be unlikely to join a left-leaning coalition led by Labor instead.

If Netanyahu also draws Naftali Bennet’s nationalist Jewish Home and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu into another coalition, Israel could get its most right-wing government since Netanyahu first came to power in 1996.

Jewish Home gets most of its support from settlers and calls for the annexation of parts of the West Bank, the largest territory the Palestinians claim for their future state. Like Yisrael Beiteinu, it is disinterested in negotiations and advocates a hard line against the Islamist terror group Hamas which controls the Palestinians’ other territory, Gaza.

Kulanu won ten seats campaigning on cost-of-living issues but given that it is led by a former Likud minister, Moshe Kahlon, it can be expected to toe the coalition’s line on national security.

Among the concessions Kulanu extracted was a raise in salaries for soldiers and the extension of unemployment insurance to the self-employed.

United Torah Judaism won a freeze in legislation that would have phased out the exemption for orthodox Jews from military service as well reductions in cutbacks on child allowances and religious schools.

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