New Bibi gov’t wins approval, US urges deal

By Jonah Mandel, AFP

JERUSALEM–The Israeli parliament late Thursday narrowly approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government as the United States insisted the Jewish state must forge a deal with the Palestinians for its own good. The new administration marks a shift to the right and looks likely to complicate Netanyahu’s fraught relationships with the Palestinians and with U.S. President Barack Obama. “We will safeguard our security and strive for peace,” Netanyahu said in a speech ahead of the parliamentary vote, which was interrupted by loud laughter from the opposition and heckling from Arab Israeli lawmakers, three of whom were ejected. After two months of coalition horse-trading, Thursday’s session was delayed for another two hours to give Netanyahu more time to placate senior members of his Likud party. They were dissatisfied by the portfolios they received, after Netanyahu was forced to hand out senior ministerial positions to coalition partners. Opposition members called the premier’s deal-making “a farce,” and the coalition was finally approved by a razor-thin vote of 61-59. Netanyahu stressed the need to change the system of governance to increase Israel’s political stability and implied he would seek to expand his narrow coalition. But opposition head Isaac Herzog firmly rejected any notion of joining Netanyahu’s government. “No decent leader would join this circus that you’ve formed at the last moment with barely a majority for the sole purpose of perpetuating your regime,” Herzog said. “Your way is not my way.” Netanyahu’s lineup is dominated by right-wing and religious parties and commands a slender majority of 61 of the parliament’s 120 seats, leaving it vulnerable should a disgruntled MP turn on the premier. On the eve of the March 17 election, Netanyahu triggered a diplomatic backlash by promising there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.

Although he has since sought to backtrack, reviving the peace process is unlikely to be a priority for his new cabinet, which features several ministers bent on expanding settlement construction on land the Palestinians want for a future state. ‘Distant prospect’