A look at key figures in Israel’s new government
JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli prime minister’s new coalition government is dominated by nationalists and religious parties, setting Israel on a collision course with the international community on multiple fronts. The success of that government rests largely on the key players involved.
Here is a look at the leading politicians in the new government:
Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud
The prime minister faces many challenges, both at home and abroad, as he begins his fourth term as prime minister. His narrow religious-hawkish coalition— with the slimmest of majorities in parliament— leaves him vulnerable to the whims of his partners or even demands from any individual coalition lawmaker. His Likud party has traditionally held tough positions toward Palestinian statehood and largely opposes ceding territory for a future state.
That puts his government at odds with Washington, which has made ending the conflict with a two-state solution a top foreign policy goal. Netanyahu grudgingly accepted the idea of Palestinian independence in the past but in a dramatic last-minute appeal to hard-line voters toward the end of the election campaign, he pledged to prevent a Palestinian state while regional unrest persists. That statement angered the U.S., worsening already tense relations with Israel’s most important ally.
Netanyahu also butted heads with Washington over the emerging nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy. As Washington closes in on a deal opposed by Israel ahead of a deadline next month, tensions could rise further. Domestically, he needs to tread carefully to keep his fragile coalition together while resolving a multitude of social issues — from a housing crisis and the high cost of living to draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox males and healing rifts with Arab and Ethiopian minorities.
Moshe Yaalon, Likud
Israel’s defense minister in the previous government, Yaalon will continue in that capacity in the emerging coalition. He served as the military chief of staff between 2002 and 2005, leading operations in the West Bank against Palestinian militants. He was critical of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, and has taken a hard line on security issues.
Yaalon caused a discord with Israel’s closest ally when he called U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic” over making peace between Israelis and Palestinians and dismissed a U.S. security plan for the region as worthless. Yaalon also plays a key role in Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank — a key point of contention with the Palestinians and the international community.
Naftali Bennett, Jewish Home
A former special forces soldier and high-tech millionaire, Bennett breathed new life into Israel’s old National Religious Party and has rebranded it into a powerful force in Israeli politics. With a strong nationalistic message, the charismatic leader of the Jewish Home party succeeded in broadening the appeal of his movement, attracting large numbers of secular voters for the first time.
Jewish Home, which is linked to the West Bank settler movement and opposes even talking about withdrawing from territory for the establishment of a Palestinian state, brings a hawkish tone to the coalition. Bennett has called peace talks with the Palestinians a waste of time and his positions will make it difficult to make any progress in peace talks with the Palestinians, if those are rekindled. Bennett is slated to be minister of education in the emerging government, a post where he can infuse some of his world view in the Israeli school system.
Ayelet Shaked, Jewish Home
A pugnacious, secular woman in the Jewish Home party, Shaked is popular with supporters as a telegenic and unapologetic voice for the nationalist camp.
Netanyahu grudgingly agreed that the 39-year-old, who has no legal experience, be appointed to the influential post of justice minister as a condition for her party joining the coalition. Shaked has been an outspoken critic of the country’s judiciary, widely seen as a liberal bastion, and is seeking influence over the appointment of judges. She has also championed several bills that critics say are meant to stifle dovish groups.
Uri Ariel, Jewish Home
In the last government, Ariel served as housing minister, using the post to promote settlement construction in the West Bank, which Palestinians envision as part of their future state. Many housing projects in the territories Palestinians demand were announced strategically under his tenure and spread animosity and mistrust during peace talks that eventually collapsed last year.
Ariel is set to be agriculture minister in the incoming government, a post that that will allow him to support West Bank settler farms. The party says he will also head the World Zionist Organization’s “settlement division,” a government-funded body that promotes projects in the West Bank.
Moshe Kahlon, Kulanu
Influential newcomer Kahlon heads the center-right Kulanu party. Set to serve as finance minister, he has pledged to carry out economic reforms and lower the cost of living for the struggling middle class.
He rose through the ranks of Netanyahu’s Likud to become one of its most popular leaders before leaving the party in an apparent dispute with the prime minister and setting out on his own. While he has taken a hard line on security matters in the past, Kahlon said little about the Palestinian issue during the campaign.
He is considered socially liberal and maintains a working-class appeal. As a centrist party also capable of working with the opposition, Kulanu could also potentially play a key role in pulling apart the coalition.