Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu moves closer to coalition deal

JERUSALEM: Israel’s prime-minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal with an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party Thursday on allocating cabinet jobs in a key step toward forming a government ahead of a looming deadline.
The deal announced overnight promises the Shas party five ministerial jobs in Netanyahu’s incoming government, which is expected to be the most right-wing in Israel’s history.
“We have achieved another step toward forming a government,” said Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, whose victory in a November 1 election set him up to retake power after just 14 months in opposition.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party has already signed coalition deals with three controversial extreme right parties — Religious Zionism, Jewish Power and the virulently anti-LGBT Noam.
Likud’s agreements with Shas and another ultra-Orthodox bloc, United Torah Judaism, are provisional, not binding coalition deals. Additional pacts will be required before a government is announced, the parties have said.
One complication is that Shas leader Aryeh Deri has been convicted of tax offenses, which, according to Israel’s attorney general, bars him from serving in cabinet.
Israel’s parliament, where Netanyahu and his allies now control a majority, may seek to pass legislation allowing Deri to serve in cabinet before firming up a coalition deal.
Under the Shas-Likud deal, Deri will be both interior minister and health minister in Netanyahu’s next government, in addition to being named deputy prime minister.
If confirmed, Deri would become Israel’s first ultra-Orthodox Jewish deputy premier.
Last month’s election put Netanyahu and his allies in a position to form a stable, right-wing government, ending an unprecedented period of political deadlock that forced five elections in less than four years.
Some Israeli political analysts had forecast that Netanyahu would move to announce a coalition days after receiving his mandate from President Isaac Herzog on November 13.
But the coalition talks have proved complex, with Netanyahu forced to give sensitive portfolios to controversial figures, including Jewish Power leader Itamar Ben Gvir, who has been promised the national security ministry with responsiblity for the border police in the occupied West Bank despite his fiercely anti-Arab rhetoric.
Netanyahu’s 28-day mandate from Herzog expires at midnight (2200 GMT) Sunday.
He is widely expected to seek a two-week extension, as several issues remain unresolved, including the allocation of portfolios within his own Likud party, according to Israeli media reports.