Israeli PM Netanyahu strikes deal to form govt
Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal to form the much-delayed next government ahead of US President Barack Obama's maiden visit, after ironing out differences with coalition partners who arm twisted him during weeks of intense negotiations.
Israel's 33rd government is expected to be sworn-in on Monday after Yesh Atid (There is Future) (19) and HaBayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) (12) parties reached an agreement with Netanyahu's Likud Betenyu party (31) on various issues.
A spokesperson for the ruling Likud party confirmed the coalition deal between the three major factions after nearly 40 days of intense negotiations following January 22 polls.
Netanyahu had been under huge pressure to present a government with a working majority of at least 61 MPs within the 120-seat Knesset (Parliament) before a March 16 deadline.
Netanyahu had already sealed a deal with former foreign minister Tzipi Livni's HaTnua (The Movement) party (6).
The new government, however, will be devoid of ultra-orthodox parties which otherwise were seen as right-wing Likud Betenyu party's natural allies.
"There is a government," Likud spokesperson Noga Katz said. Coalition agreement signing ceremonies are expected later today, with the new government likely to be sworn-in before the March 20 visit by Obama.
Obama will undertake his maiden visit to the region at a time when the peace process between Israel and Palestinians is almost stalled.
Former journalist Yair Lapid led Yesh Atid party and Netanyahu's former aide Naftali Bennet led HaBayit Hayehudi parties joined hands in pushing Likud Betenyu party to make major concessions to them in the coalition negotiations.
"The sides are displaying a lot of leadership and determination," Bennett told reporters this morning.
"We will have a good government. I envision a government with a historic opportunity, and I am very optimistic," he added.
Lapid's post on Facebook, "This is the end or the beginning. Thank you for the support and thank you for caring," confirmed the deal.
Netanyahu accepted Lapid's demand for a smaller ministry size that will include no more than 22 ministers.
They also agreed to advance legislation for equal share of the national burden, which will make it mandatory for all to serve in the army.
Talks had stalled over several thorny issues, including the division of key cabinet portfolios and plans to reform the country's military draft.
The new government is expected to end a controversial system of giving automatic draft exemptions to ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students.