Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu reaches coalition deal

After nearly six weeks of political wrangling, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached a deal on Thursday to form a coalition government which is expected to be sworn in on Monday. Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitnu party will form a coalition with two centrist parties, Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid and Hatnua led by former Foreign Minister ...

AFP/Getty Images/Pool
AFP/Getty Images/Pool
AFP/Getty Images/Pool

After nearly six weeks of political wrangling, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached a deal on Thursday to form a coalition government which is expected to be sworn in on Monday. Netanyahu's Likud-Beitnu party will form a coalition with two centrist parties, Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid and Hatnua led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livini, as well as Naftali Bennett's far-right Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home). In a dramatic political change, Netanyahu's longtime allies, the ultra-Orthodox parties, will not be in the coalition. The new coalition will comprise 68 of the Knesset's 120 members, from five factions, in what most analysts see as a weak and disjointed group. The new government is expected to concentrate on internal social and economic issues steering away from peace talks with the Palestinians. The deal was reached just days before the March 16 deadline, and about a week prior to U.S. President Barack Obama's first visit to Israel while in office.

Syria

France and Britain are considering arming Syrian opposition fighters despite a European Union arms ban. The two countries are pushing for an urgent EU meeting, hoping to persuade the 27 member states to end the embargo. Speaking to France Info radio, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabrius said the two countries might violate the ban, but have "identical views" over lifting the arms embargo. The embargo is set to expire on May 31 if it is not renewed. Syria's main opposition group the Syrian National Coalition was pleased with the statement from France. Spokesman for the coalition Walid al-Bunni said, "We consider it a step in the right direction. Assad will not accept a political solution [to the conflict] until he realizes he is faced with an [armed] force that will defeat him." Meanwhile, according to anonymous Western officials, Iran has been significantly stepping up military assistance to the Syrian government. According to Western diplomats, Iranian weapons have continued to flow into Syria through Iraq, but are increasingly moving through other countries such as Turkey and Lebanon. The supplies have continued despite a U.N. arms embargo on Iran. Most of the weapons going into Syria from Iran have been shipped over Iraqi territory and airspace. However, Iraq has strongly denied these allegations.

After nearly six weeks of political wrangling, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached a deal on Thursday to form a coalition government which is expected to be sworn in on Monday. Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitnu party will form a coalition with two centrist parties, Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid and Hatnua led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livini, as well as Naftali Bennett’s far-right Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home). In a dramatic political change, Netanyahu’s longtime allies, the ultra-Orthodox parties, will not be in the coalition. The new coalition will comprise 68 of the Knesset’s 120 members, from five factions, in what most analysts see as a weak and disjointed group. The new government is expected to concentrate on internal social and economic issues steering away from peace talks with the Palestinians. The deal was reached just days before the March 16 deadline, and about a week prior to U.S. President Barack Obama’s first visit to Israel while in office.

Syria

France and Britain are considering arming Syrian opposition fighters despite a European Union arms ban. The two countries are pushing for an urgent EU meeting, hoping to persuade the 27 member states to end the embargo. Speaking to France Info radio, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabrius said the two countries might violate the ban, but have "identical views" over lifting the arms embargo. The embargo is set to expire on May 31 if it is not renewed. Syria’s main opposition group the Syrian National Coalition was pleased with the statement from France. Spokesman for the coalition Walid al-Bunni said, "We consider it a step in the right direction. Assad will not accept a political solution [to the conflict] until he realizes he is faced with an [armed] force that will defeat him." Meanwhile, according to anonymous Western officials, Iran has been significantly stepping up military assistance to the Syrian government. According to Western diplomats, Iranian weapons have continued to flow into Syria through Iraq, but are increasingly moving through other countries such as Turkey and Lebanon. The supplies have continued despite a U.N. arms embargo on Iran. Most of the weapons going into Syria from Iran have been shipped over Iraqi territory and airspace. However, Iraq has strongly denied these allegations.

Headlines

Secularism, the Arab Way (Issandr El Amrani, Latitude Blog, The New York Times)

"Free Arabs, a new Web site run by a group of Arabs – some in the Middle East, others in the West – is causing a stir. Gathered under the slogan "Democracy, Secularism, Fun," it laments the fact that "millions of Arabs have internalized the notion that secularism is tantamount to faithlessness, and is all about demonizing Islam and promoting a dissolute way of life.

Not only can secularism coexist with religion, Free Arabs argues, but it protects the free exercise of religion and can help promote other civil liberties, like gay rights.

The group is defending a no-compromise version of secularism – one that may be too much to ask of many Arab politicians, particularly those in the fledging new liberal parties that have emerged since the Arab uprisings.

Some don’t want to be dragged into culture wars, a favorite ground for Islamists who bank on the fact that many Arab societies are still socially conservative. Others are just plain conservative themselves, even on issues far more basic than gay rights – like whether gender equality should be applied to inheritance and other questions traditionally governed by Islamic law.

Still, the controversy triggered by Free Arabs is just the kind of debate Islamists and secularists in the Arab world should be having, if only because they couldn’t have had it under the old regimes. Also, there’s plenty of room for debate: In this part of the world, the term "secular" means very different things to different people."

Israel’s shallow coalition talks (Haaretz)

"Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid insisted on a smaller government throughout the coalition negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his efforts proved fruitful: The next government will include 21 ministers, including the prime minister. Lapid kept his pledge to voters, and decreasing the number of ministers was indeed a worthy cause.

Still, the "victory photo" of a small government without the ultra-Orthodox parties came at a price: increasing the number of Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu ministers, and strengthening the right-wing nationalist majority in the government and its committees, at the expense of moderate ministers from the centrist parties.

Despite being a worthy symbolic step, the emphasis on the number of ministers actually underlined what was missing in the coalition talks: a serious debate regarding Israel’s foreign and defense policies, and the new government’s economic plan."

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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