Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces the challenge of forming a new Israeli government that will include six parties – with only 18 portfolios to distribute among them.
Coalition talks began Thursday in Israel. Netanyahu, winner of the recent national elections, is already facing great challenges satisfying the demands of the five parties that are prepared to partner with Likud, all of whom are necessary to maintain a majority in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament).
Elections Committee Chairman Salim Joubran handed the final election results to President Reuven Rivlin at a press conference Wednesday. After 67 members of the new Knesset – representing Likud, Kulanu, Jewish Home, Shas, Yisrael Beitenu and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) – indicated their support for Netanyahu as prime minister, Rivlin formally tasked him with forming the new government.
“Together with all the Israeli people, I pray for your success,” the president told Netanyahu. “With the current challenges which lie before us, upon you rests the heavy responsibility to build a stable and as inclusive as possible government, and as soon as can be achieved.”
However, building a stable Israeli government will not be easy for Netanyahu. The three largest parliamentary blocs after Likud – Zionist Union, Joint List, and Yesh Atid – have all decided to remain within the opposition. With just a bare majority of the new Knesset behind him, Netanyahu cannot afford to lose any coalition partners. A recent law limiting the number of government ministers to 18 also severely limits his bargaining power in offering portfolios to various parties.
Netanyahu has already run into conflict with Kulanu party head Moshe Kahlon. In an effort to increase votes for Likud, Netanyahu promised during the elections to appoint Kahlon as finance minister regardless of how Kulanu performed. Kahlon nevertheless cancelled his plans to meet with Netanyahu after the prime minister said he would consider appointing UTJ’s Moshe Gafni as chair of the Knesset finance committee and Shas’s Arye Deri as chair of the Interior Ministry’s construction-planning authority.
“I’ve heard this evening that, rather than taking care of the housing problems and lowering the cost of living, someone thinks it is more urgent to divide the tools to deal with these issues in a political and non-logical way,” Kahlon complained in a Facebook post on Wednesday night.
The defense ministry is also likely to be a source of conflict. Likud would like Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon to remain in his position, while both Yisrael Beitenu and Jewish Home are demanding the portfolio for their parties. Likud officials indicated that neither request is likely to be fulfilled, although they would consider appointing Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett as either education minister or economy minister, but not both. Shas’s Aryeh Deri is seeking the position of interior minister.
Netanyahu has only 28 days in which to form a government. The deadline this year is, coincidentally, Israel Independence Day. He could ask Rivlin for a 14-day extension, but the president is under no obligation to comply.