JERUSALEM — A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Thursday he was reserving the post of foreign minister for Isaac Herzog of the center-left Zionist Union, in hopes of expanding the razor-thin majority government he just formed into a broad one of national unity.
But Herzog, whose party finished second behind Netanyahu’s Likud in elections March 17, said his faction would “not be a fifth wheel and have no intention of saving Netanyahu from the hole he has dug for himself.” He promised instead to lead “a fighting, consolidated, strong opposition” aimed at bringing down the government.
The conservative Likud party and more-conservative Jewish Home party continued talking through the night before signing a deal at 10 a.m. Thursday that seals Netanyahu’s fourth term but leaves him in a precarious spot, with 61 of Parliament’s 120 seats, the slimmest majority in two decades.
After drawn-out, fraught negotiations with potential partners who are also political rivals, Netanyahu found himself racing to meet the deadline to form a government, despite his clear election mandate to do so. The new government is expected to be sworn in next week.
The leader of the center-right Kulanu Party, Moshe Kahlon, gained an influential foothold with control of the Finance Ministry. Jewish Home got the Education, Justice, and Agriculture ministries, after gaining leverage with Monday’s announcement that Avigdor Lieberman’s ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party would not join the government.
The agreement signed Thursday rewards Jewish Home’s prime constituencies of settlers in the occupied West Bank and modern-Orthodox military families. It would increase the budget of the Education Ministry, to be headed by the party chief, Naftali Bennett, and of Ariel University, whose West Bank situation makes it controversial; swell the salaries of soldiers in their third year of mandatory service; and armor buses serving settlements.
Moshe Yaalon of Likud is expected to stay on as defense minister. But with many significant posts having been distributed to the other parties, analysts said, Netanyahu could now face an uprising from politicians in his own party who are competing for reduced spoils. One of the government’s first moves could be to change the law that limits the Cabinet to 18 ministers, to satisfy disgruntled senior members of Likud.
Palestinian leaders were quick to denounce the new government as extremist and racist, saying it would expand settlements that most of the world considers illegal and would do nothing to promote peace or a Palestinian state.
Hanna Amira, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said on Voice of Palestine radio that the government was “naked before international public opinion” because it lacks “a fig leaf like the last one,” a reference to centrist ministers who pushed for peace talks, which eased pressure on Israel from the United States and Europe.