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New Netanyahu government approved as Obama urges peace deal

May 15, 2015 12:47 P.M. (Updated: May 16, 2015 7:44 P.M.)
Benjamin Netanyahu presents his proposed government on May 14, 2015. (AFP/ Jim Hollander)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- The Israeli parliament narrowly approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government as the United States insisted Israel must forge a deal with the Palestinians for its own good.

The new administration marks the government's ongoing shift to the right and looks likely to complicate Netanyahu's fraught relationships with the Palestinians and with US 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 Palestinian 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.

A Palestinian woman walks past graffiti on May 13, 2015 in the West Bank city of Ramallah illustrating the "Nakba" or "catastrophe" in Arabic, in reference to the birth of the state of Israel 67-years-ago in then British-mandate Palestine. (AFP/Abbas Momani, File)

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.

Netanyahu's 61 majority seats are largely right wing, some of whom faced allegations of refusing a future Palestinian state and racist politics after they acquired their Knesset seats.

Newly appointed justice minister, Habayit Hayehudi's (Jewish Home) Ayelet Shaked, hasdrawn fierce criticism forallegedly"genocidal" outspoken on the Palestinians, and her attempts to advance legislationcriticizedas anti-democratic.

Knesset Member Ayelet Shaked, of the far-right Jewish Home party, is set to take up the post of justice minister in Israel's new government. (AFP/Gali Tibbon)

'Distant prospect'

Speaking shortly after the vote confirming the new coalition, Obama said Israel's long-term security would be best served by reaching an agreement to live alongside a recognized Palestinian state.

"I continue to believe a two-state solution is absolutely vital for not only peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but for the long-term security of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state," Obama told a Camp David news conference.

"I know that a government has been formed that contains some folks who don't necessarily believe in that premise, but that continues to be my premise," he said.

"That prospect seems distant now, but I think it's always important for us to keep in mind what's right and what's possible."

The coalition groups Likud, which won 30 seats in the election, with the center-right Kulanu (10 seats), Jewish Home (eight) and two ultra-Orthodox parties: Shas (seven) and United Torah Judaism (six).

Opposition head Issac Herzog, seen here in Tel Aviv on December 10, 2014, firmly rejected any notion of joining Netanyahu's government. (AFP/Jack Guez, File)

Likud members were handed portfolios during a round of bargaining with Netanyahu that lasted well into the Thursday parliamentary session.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon was to keep his portfolio, as was Yisrael Katz, who has served as transport minister since Likud won the 2009 election.

Katz will also receive the intelligence portfolio formerly held by Yuval Steinitz, who will become energy minister and coordinate Israel's position on Iran and its nuclear program.

Palestinian children play amid the rubble of their house, on May 11, 2015, which was destroyed during the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in the summer of 2014, in the Eastern Gaza City Shujaiya neighborhood. (AFP/Thomas Coex, File)

The premier will remain foreign minister and Tzipi Hotovely becomes deputy foreign minister. Hotovely rejects establishing a future Palestinian state, has called to annex the West Bank and make Palestinians Israeli citizens.

Gilad Erdan, the highest ranking Likud member after Netanyahu, did not receive a portfolio after refusing the premier's proposal to be internal security minister.

The new economy minister will be Arye Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party who was imprisoned in 2000 for two years for corruption and breach of trust, felonies committed while interior minister.

Since Avigdor Lieberman relinquished his position of foreign minister and dropped a political bombshell by withdrawing his hardline anti-Arab Yisrael Beitenu from the coalition talks, Netanyahu has kept the foreign affairs portfolio for himself.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
Tibi / Tubas
Peace Is Easy, with zero risk, but Palestinians aren't interested, and
Palestinian Statehood is nearly impossible, and with great risk, so
Israel isn't interested, and
Both will probably deny the other what it wants forever !!
15/05/2015 23:36
Tobias / USA
-1- Silvan Shalom, the new Israel Interior Minister in charge of Peace Talks is probably Not interested in Palestinian Statehood talks, and
-2- Erekat has been in charge of Statehood Talks, without any interest in peace talks, so
-3- The Status-Quo Will Continue !!
18/05/2015 19:06
Tibi / Tubas
With attempts at genocide (1948, 1967, etc.), war crimes, terrorism, and politically motivated murder, Palestinians earned their "occupied" situation, and world leaders should be telling them to change their ways or forget about any further aid !!
24/05/2015 17:52
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