Israel’s Netanyahu Secures One-Seat Majority for Coalition

Benjamin Netanyahu returns for a fourth term as prime minister but with the smallest possible majority.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2014
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2014 (WEF)

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu secured a majority in the Knesset for his fourth government on Wednesday but lost a nationalist party ally, making the prime minister more vulnerable to demands from the far right.

“Israel now has a government,” Naftali Bennett, the leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, told reporters after hours of talks with Netanyahu’s Likud about cabinet posts.

Bennett served as economy minister in Netanyahu’s previous government. The position is now expected to go to one of the orthodox parties.

The new finance minister will be Moshe Kahlon, a Likud defector who formed his own party, Kulanu, to campaign on cost-of-living issues. It won ten seats in the March election.

Jewish Home lost four seats, ending up with eight. Israeli media reported it would still get three cabinet posts — education, justice and possibly agriculture.

Netanyahu earlier signed deals with Kulanu and the two religious parties, Shah and United Torah Judaism. The former negotiated a raise in salaries for soldiers and the extension of unemployment insurance to the self-employed; the latter 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.

With Jewish Home in his coalition, Netanyahu commands a thin one-seat majority in parliament.

Avigdor Lieberman had been expected to join the government but stepped down as foreign minister after his nationalist party, Yisrael Beiteinu, lost more than half its seats in the election.

Netanyahu is keeping the foreign ministry for himself. Israel’s Channel 2 reported Wednesday night that the premier had hoped to lure Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog into the government possibly by giving him the position. Both Labor and Likud denied the report.

In alliance with the centrist Hatnuah party, the left won 24 seats while Netanyahu’s Likud got thirty.

Herzog immediately criticized the new government, saying it was “susceptible to blackmail” and predicating that it would “quickly be replaced by a responsible and hopeful alternative.”