Netanyahu’s New Government Could Be Messy, Short-Lived, and Likely to Anger the U.S.

Just two hours before a looming deadline, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu negotiated for votes from a far-right party. And the United States probably won't be happy with his new political appointees.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Visits Jerusalem
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Visits Jerusalem
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - JANUARY 19: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a welcoming speech for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's official reception at the Prime Minister's office January 19, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Harper is on a four-day visit ,his first visit to Israel and the first by a serving Canadian Prime Minister since 2000. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

A last-minute deal with the far-right Jewish Home party allowed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cobble together a coalition government Wednesday, just hours before a midnight deadline that could have lost him his prime ministership.

Netanyahu, who narrowly won the Israeli election for the Likud party nearly two months ago, reportedly sealed the deal with just two hours to spare. The new government is likely to be one of the shakiest in recent Israeli history, with Netanyahu having just the bare 61 seats needed to form a majority in the Knesset. With lawmakers deeply divided over issues ranging from Iran to the country’s growing income inequality, Netanyahu will almost certainly have a hard time keeping his fractious coalition intact.

The sharply right-wing nature of the coalition also means that Netanyahu is likely to maintain his staunch opposition to the Obama administration’s ongoing nuclear talks with Iran and the White House’s stated desire for the creation of a Palestinian state. That, in turn, means that the tense personal relationship between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama -- already so bad that ties between the two allies have plunged to their lowest point in decades -- won’t improve anytime soon and could easily get even worse.

A last-minute deal with the far-right Jewish Home party allowed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cobble together a coalition government Wednesday, just hours before a midnight deadline that could have lost him his prime ministership.

Netanyahu, who narrowly won the Israeli election for the Likud party nearly two months ago, reportedly sealed the deal with just two hours to spare. The new government is likely to be one of the shakiest in recent Israeli history, with Netanyahu having just the bare 61 seats needed to form a majority in the Knesset. With lawmakers deeply divided over issues ranging from Iran to the country’s growing income inequality, Netanyahu will almost certainly have a hard time keeping his fractious coalition intact.

The sharply right-wing nature of the coalition also means that Netanyahu is likely to maintain his staunch opposition to the Obama administration’s ongoing nuclear talks with Iran and the White House’s stated desire for the creation of a Palestinian state. That, in turn, means that the tense personal relationship between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama — already so bad that ties between the two allies have plunged to their lowest point in decades — won’t improve anytime soon and could easily get even worse.

The six-week negotiating process was complicated by rivaling coalition parties vying for top spots in Netanyahu’s Cabinet — and by the combative prime minister’s tense relationships with the leaders of the country’s other right-leaning and far-right parties.

Earlier this week, with Wednesday’s deadline looming, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a long-time ally of Netanyahu’s, announced he would resign his post and take his party into the opposition. Lieberman accused Netanyahu of failing to take a hard enough line with the Hamas militants who control the Gaza Strip and said he couldn’t be part of a government that “has no intention to build housing, neither in major settlement blocks nor in Jerusalem.”

This put the pressure on Netanyahu, whose Likud Party took 30 seats in the country’s March election. The Israeli leader secured an additional 23 seats from ultra-orthodox parties and one led by a breakaway member of Likud.

Still short eight seats as of Wednesday morning, Netanyahu had no choice but to turn to the Jewish Home Party and its leader, Naftali Bennett, whose relationship with the Israeli premier is almost as bad as that of Netanyahu and Lieberman.

Bennett, sensing that he had his longtime rival over a barrel, demanded the foreign ministry for himself and the justice ministry for his ally Ayelet Shaked, who is deeply controversial because of past statements calling for violence against Palestinian civilians.

Before the clock struck midnight, a deal between the two was reached, and Netanyahu called President Reuven Rivlin, as required by law, to announce his coalition government was formed. According to reports in the Israeli media, Bennett’s party was given the education ministry, which he will reportedly run, as well as both the justice ministry and the Knesset committee that oversees Israel’s judicial system. In a move certain to be viewed with dismay at the White House, Bennett’s party will also gain control of the wing of the government charged with running Israeli-held portions of the West Bank. Shaked, meanwhile, will reportedly end up as the country’s next justice minister.

Netanyahu, who was facing the end of his long career in politics, now lives to fight another day at the helm of a new coalition. How long that government lasts — and how much further away from Obama it pushes Netanyahu — remains to be seen.

Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.