Netanyahu seals government deal ahead of deadline, Obama

Netanyahu is to formally unveil the shape of his long-awaited coalition government which will be sworn in just days before a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama. (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed deals with key coalition partners on Friday, forming a new government just before a deadline and a milestone visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The alliance of Netanyahu’s Likud party and former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu had been locked in intense negotiations for 40 days 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.

“The prime minister welcomes the coalition agreements that have been signed between the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu, and the Yesh Atid party and the Jewish Home,” Netanyahu’s Likud party said in a statement, about an hour before the start of the Jewish Sabbath which runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

“On Saturday evening, the prime minister will inform President Shimon Peres that he has completed the task” of forming a government, it said.

“We shall work together in cooperation in the new government for all of Israel’s citizens,” it quoted Netanyahu as saying.

Netanyahu had a legal deadline of Saturday evening to come up with a coalition or admit defeat.

He had previously signed 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.

With Yesh Atid and Jewish Home on board, the coalition will command a total of 68 parliamentary seats.

The new cabinet is expected to be sworn in by parliament on Monday, 48 hours before the arrival of Obama.

Copies of the coalition agreements published by the Likud confirmed that 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 allocation of ministries for Likud-Beitenu was not detailed, but Netanyahu was expected to temporarily handle foreign affairs, pending the conclusion of former foreign minister Lieberman’s trial on charges of fraud and breach of trust.

Lieberman’s hardline Yisrael Beitenu ran on a joint ticket with Netanyahu’s Likud, with the list winning 31 seats.

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

The Likud said coalition members pledged among other things to pursue “a peace agreement with the Palestinians with the aim of reaching a political agreement that will end the conflict.”

If such a deal could be negotiated, it would be put to the cabinet, parliament and a national referendum for approval, the party said.

Obama’s visit

Obama will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem as well as Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and his premier Salam Fayyad in Ramallah during his Mideast visit, starting March 20, to hear their perspective on how to resolve the decades-long conflict.

“My goal on this trip is to listen. I intend to meet with Bibi (Netanyahu) ... I intend to meet with Fayyad and Abu Mazen (Abbas) and to hear from them what is their strategy, what is their vision, where do they think this should go?”

The White House said the U.S. president will be addressing a speech direct to Israelis, mainly students, in Jerusalem. In 2009, he reached out to the Muslim World by saying that he seeks “a new beginning” at the University in Cairo.

Obama is expected to visit the memorial for Jewish victims from the Holocaust, as well as travel to the graves of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin and Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism.

The president will be accompanied by Secretary of State, John Kerry.


Last Update: Friday, 15 March 2013 KSA 21:23 - GMT 18:23