Benjamin Netanyahu has managed to form a coalition government, a necessity since his Likud party does not hold enough seats in the Knesset to pass any legislation. He presented his new cabinet on Tuesday - a collection of ministers from several different (and often conflicting) parties. While Israelis – and the world – hope for peace and stability in the Holy Land, past failures have tilted public opinion toward cynicism. Netanyahu's strong interest in Israel's security and his current broad-based coalition may have a chance to bring more stability than Israel has seen in a long time… if his government can hold together.
Netanyahu told the Knesset on Monday that he would do his "utmost to achieve a just and lasting peace with all our neighbors." While in the past he has been considered hawkish in his fight to protect Israel's security, Netanyahu is now being considered more "pragmatic." His coalition includes groups on both the Right and the Left, and makes up an interesting collection in Israel's parliament:
Likud – 27 seats: Likud is Netanyahu's center-right party. According to its platform, Likud makes Israel's security a top priority. Its members have rejected a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem and have refused to consider dividing Jerusalem. Netanyahu has said he would work towards peace with the Palestinians by focusing on improving the economy in the West Bank. Preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is also at the center of Likud's attention.
Yisrael Beitenu – 15 seats: Netanyahu's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, like many in Yisrael Beitenu, came to Israel from the former Soviet Union. His far-right nationalist party does not oppose the formation of a Palestinian state, but Lieberman believes all Israeli citizens, both Jewish and Arab, should swear allegiance to Israel. Lieberman has promoted the idea of trading Arab population centers in Israel for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. He has been accused of being racist over what some have considered anti-Arab speeches, and Netanyahu has been criticized for making him foreign minister.
Labour – 13 seats: Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak will stay on as defense minister under Netanyahu. Barak's left-leaning party has historically favored the formation of a Palestinian state, and has promoted land-for-peace deals. Barak is famous for having offered PLO leader Yasser Arafat 80% of West Bank lands in 2000, but Arafat insisted on all or nothing.
Netanyahu agreed to abide by Israel's previous international agreements in order to get Labour signed on to his government. Those agreements envisioned a Palestinian state, but did not expressly start on the path to create one. Labour party members are still divided over Barak's decision to join Netanyahu's government.
Shas – 11 seats: This ultra-Orthodox party, led by Eli Yishai, is made up of lower-income religious Jews who agreed to join Netanyahu's government if he maintained welfare benefits. Shas - the Union of Sephardic Torah Observers – is generally hawkish and will not consider a divided Jerusalem, but is not opposed to a Palestinian state or land-for-peace deals.
Jewish Home – 3 seats: This ultra-right-leaning party wants Jordan to absorb the Palestinians, since there is a large Palestinian population in Jordan. The West Bank was under Jordan's control until the Six-Day War. Jewish Home agreed to focus on education and social issues in its deal with Netanyahu.
These 69 seats give Netanyahu a fair majority in the 120-seat Knesset. His cabinet alone will be one of the largest in history with as many as 30 ministers. He's had to order a new table to seat everybody.
In the meanwhile, Netanyahu has expressed interest in peace and cooperation with key players, including the Palestinians and United States. Netanyahu's English is excellent; he spent part of his youth in Philadelphia and graduated from MIT. While there has been skepticism that he will cooperate with the United States after having butted heads with Bill Clinton in the 1990s, Netanyahu has said he believes he can work with Obama. He has met with the new US President twice and believes Obama is "open to new ideas."
Netanyahu will take this opportunity to try different approaches to handling the Palestinian problem. Instead of pushing to create a Palestinians state, he will promote economic development in Palestinian areas. He said during his campaign, "Economic development doesn't solve problems, but it mitigates them, and makes a stronger partner on the other side." He also plans to focus on whittling away at the Iranian threat. A weaker Iran will be less able to fuel Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and will leave the PA in the West Bank increasingly open to cooperation.
In his speech on Tuesday, Netanyahu spoke warmly of peace with Israel's Muslim neighbors, calling the Islamic culture, "great and rich," yet warning against terrorism.
"Israel has always, and today more than ever, strives to reach full peace with the entire Arab and Muslim world, and today that yearning is supported by a joint interest of Israel and the Arab states against the fanatical obstacle that threatens us all," he said.
Please continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Benjamin Netanyahu takes office with a warning to Iran - Telegraph
Factbox: Parties In Israel's New Government - Reuters
Netanyahu Says He Wants Full Peace With Arab World - AP
Mid-East Update 2000: The Struggle For Jerusalem - Koinonia House
The Modern History Behind the Middle East Crisis - Koinonia House