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Fractious coalition takes charge in Israel

Wed., April 1, 2009

JERUSALEM – Israel’s parliament convened Tuesday to approve Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, ushering in a government that has promised to take a hard line on security and use economic development, rather than peace negotiations, as the chief tool in improving relations with the Palestinians.

“We will move in a positive way to bring an end to the conflict between us and our neighbors,” Netanyahu said, but he added that “extreme Islam is threatening Israel and the countries of the region,” and needs to be confronted.

A cabinet of 29 ministers joins him in the new government – among the largest in Israeli history following the weeks of deal-making needed to form a majority in the country’s 120-member parliament, or Knesset.

The result was a potentially fractious coalition that was arguing with itself from the start. Even as Netanyahu made his introductory remarks, some members of the Labor Party, unhappy that their leadership had chosen to join Netanyahu’s government, heckled from the floor.

Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party was not the top vote-getter in February’s Israeli elections, finishing second, with 27 members of parliament, behind the centrist Kadima party, with 28. In recent years Kadima members have viewed negotiations with the Palestinians more favorably than Likud.

But in the wake of a three-week war against the Hamas movement in Gaza and public skepticism over the future of peace talks with the Palestinians, Netanyahu was judged by President Shimon Peres to have the best chance of creating a government. Netanyahu’s coalition includes the more liberal Labor Party, whose leader, former prime minister Ehud Barak, will remain as defense minister. But it leans heavily on support from the country’s orthodox religious factions and the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu group.


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