Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a new right-wing coalition government and is poised to begin an unprecedented fourth term as head of government. The announcement early Thursday, which was immediately denounced by the Palestinian leadership, comes after seven weeks of bargaining and less than two hours before a deadline that would have passed the task pass to another parliament member.
A leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization and former chief peace negotiator, Nabil Sha’ath, said the new government gave no hope of advancing the Middle East peace process. “This is a colonial settler Cabinet, no doubt about it. It is an extreme right Cabinet,” he said. “It is a cabinet that includes all of those people who want to maintain our occupation (of the West Bank) and that is what I said about my very, very little hope that this government is going to really be at all a government of peace.”
The White House says U.S. President Barack Obama looks forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his new government. Netanyahu said he wants to swear in the new government, which gives a lead role to the hard-line nationalist religious Jewish Home party, next week and indicated he hopes to strengthen it by attracting other parties. He was chosen to form the next government after his Likud party defeated in the March elections an opposition alliance led by the rival Labor party.
Labor leader Isaac Herzog has reiterated that he would not join the new coalition. “All I can say is that the government to be formed is a failed government which will lead nowhere, which will lead Israel into dangerous directions,” he criticized. “We will present a strong, firm opposition that will not enable the government one moment of ability to function. We will challenge it on all fronts.” The new government was formed with a one-seat majority of 61 parliament members. Netanyahu had hoped to form a larger coalition but former ally, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman withdrew his right-wing Israel Our Home party from the coalition talks. As a result Netanyahu was obliged to ally with ultra-orthodox religious parties and the Jewish Home party of former Economy Minister Naftali Bennett , who advocates expanding Jewish settlements and annexing parts of the Palestinian West Bank. The Middle East peace process has been stalled since the collapse one year ago of U.S.-led negotiations and the subsequent 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas-led militants in the Gaza Strip. A majority of the Israeli electorate also seemed to see little hope for advancing the peace negotiations. The election campaign focused primarily on domestic issues such as the rising cost of living and the growing gap between rich and poor.