Israel poised to unveil new govt as 11th-hour deal struck
JERUSALEM - The Associated Press
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a farewell event for outgoing Defence Minister Ehud Barak at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv March 13, 2013. REUTER/Baz RatnerIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was poised Thursday to unveil the shape of his long-awaited coalition government, which will be sworn in just days before a visit by US President Barack Obama.
After nearly 40 days of intensive negotiations with potential partners, Netanyahu was expected to announce details of an 11th-hour deal between his Likud-Beitenu alliance, the centrist Yesh Atid and the far-right Jewish Home.
"There is a government," Likud spokeswoman Noga Katz told AFP on Thursday morning, saying details of the line-up would be released "in due course." She said Likud-Beitenu's MPs would convene for a briefing around midday.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid wrote on his Facebook page Thursday that the signing of the deal was "likely to be tonight." "It's apparently the end. Or actually the start," Lapid said.
"Barring any last minute hitches, it should be signed today," said Ashley Perry, spokesman for the hardline Yisrael Beitenu which ran on a joint electoral list with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rightwing Likud.
"Early next week will be the swearing-in of the new government," he added, in a ceremony expected to take place on Monday, just two days before a visit by US President Barack Obama.
Netanyahu has been under huge pressure to announce the lineup of his new government ahead of a looming March 16 deadline by which he must present a working majority of at least 61 within the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament.
Media reports said the agreement would see Netanyahu heading a coalition with a majority of 68 comprising Likud-Beitenu (31), Yesh Atid (19), Naftali Bennett's far-right Jewish Home party (12) and the centrist HaTnuah (6) headed by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
Israeli daily Haaretz said Netanyahu would formally notify President Shimon Peres during the day and the new government could be sworn in by parliament on Monday, two days ahead of Obama's arrival.
Although the basic outline of coalition emerged earlier this week, a dispute over which party would take the prestigious education portfolio on Wednesday threatened to derail the deal.
But the breakthrough came during the evening when Netanyahu agreed that Yesh Atid could take the education portfolio, while the interior ministry would go to his Likud, Israel's main television and radio stations reported.
Until now, only HaTnuah has signed an agreement to join a Netanyahu coalition.
According to private Channel 2 television, Netanyahu was forced "to give in to the demands of Yair Lapid and came out personally weakened." Raviv Drucker, Channel 10's political commentator said the next government "would have a rightwards bent" both politically and economically, with hardliners set to assume responsibility for several key ministries relating to the settlements.
Jewish Home's number two, Uri Ariel, is an ultra-nationalist settler slated to take over the housing ministry which plays a central role in settlement construction.
The party, which adamantly opposes a Palestinian state, is also likely to control the parliamentary finance committee which also plays a role in funding the settlements.