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Netanyahu Forms Coalition Government After Tough Negotiations

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Israel's latest test has only begun. The country faces economic challenges, an unstable neighborhood and international pressure to allow a Palestinian state. Addressing those problems now falls to a government with the narrowest possible majority in Israel's Parliament.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did manage to form a governing coalition, but it took him the full seven weeks he was allowed after an election. As always, the vote was split among many parties, so he had to round up many allies.

INSKEEP: This right-leaning coalition has a majority of exactly one seat. Even as Netanyahu announced his government late last night, he was hinting he'd like to change it. NPR's Emily Harris reports from Jerusalem.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Netanyahu met the midnight deadline to form a government with two hours to spare. At a brief appearance late last night, he said holding 61 seats out of the 120-seat parliament is a good start.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Through interpreter) Sixty-one is a good number. Sixty-one-plus is an even better number. So it starts with 61. We shall begin, and we have much work ahead of us.

HARRIS: Netanyahu brought down the last government - his own - and called for new elections because he said there was too much disagreement and instability for him to lead. David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel newspaper, says the new lineup does not look better for the prime minister.

DAVID HOROVITZ: It's a narrow, fragile, right-wing, ultra-Orthodox coalition, and personally, I cannot believe for a second that if he had known this was what he was going to get he would've called election.

HARRIS: Leftist opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog called the new government an irresponsible, unstable failure. He promised to build a fortified wall against it. That has not stopped speculation in Israeli media that Hertzog could be tempted to leave the opposition and broaden Netanyahu's government. But chair of Hebrew University's political science department Reuven Hazan scoffs at this idea.

REUVEN HAZAN: He might get positions. In other words, he'd get the Cabinet positions. In his dreams, he might get a rotation in the prime ministership, but can he really change the ideology here? Can he have a major impact? And the answer is no.

HARRIS: Netanyahu's final hours of negotiating his new government were spent with Naftali Bennett, a religious, hawkish leader who built his base supporting Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Professor Hazan says despite deep, personal antagonism between Bennett and Netanyahu, they and other coalition members share views on key policies, such as security and a lack of interest in a Palestinian peace deal that would give up land. This provides the new coalition stability, he says.

HAZAN: On the most important issue, these parties agree. Sixty-one also means that they all have to vote together, and it's a disciplining tool. Any one of them that breaks ranks, the majority is lost and that tends to keep people together.

HARRIS: Netanyahu had to strike deals with all his new coalition partners, making promises on both budget and policy. Yohanan Plesner is the president of the Israel Democracy Institute. He says the new government, even in its current form, may be able to make progress on key domestic issues.

YOHANAN PLESNER: Any serious reform requires to face some special interest groups, and in such a narrow coalition, it's difficult to do so. But I think there's a major consensus around, say, the housing crisis, that there's a need for increase of supply.

HARRIS: Success in even such a narrow area as housing prices would depend, he says, on what Netanyahu prioritizes and what his new partners demand. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.