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Israel's Netanyahu forms new government, set for third term

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu formally notified President Shimon Peres on Saturday that after 40 days of tortuous negotiations with potential coalition partners he had formed a new government and ensured himself a third term as prime minister.

"As you know I was able to form a government," Peres's office quoted premier Netanyahu as saying at a meeting in Jerusalem. "You gave me the task and I carried it out."

Netanyahu had a legal deadline of Saturday evening to form a government or admit defeat. Completion of the new line-up comes just days before a milestone visit by US President Barack Obama to Israel.

"You suffered severe labour pains in the process of forming the government and I congratulate for succeeding in time," Peres was quoted as telling the premier, in a statement. "Good luck and my blessings to you and the new government."

Washington was quick to welcome the new Israeli administration.

"The president congratulates the Israeli people, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the new members of the prime minister's governing coalition on the successful formation of Israel's new government," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

"President Obama looks forward to working closely with the Prime Minister and the new government to address the many challenges we face and advance our shared interest in peace and security," he said.

Obama is set to start a three-day visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank on Wednesday, his first since taking office more than four years ago.

Eleventh-hour agreements were signed on Friday with the centrist Yesh Atid and far-right Jewish Home parties, which held the key to building a government with a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

Netanyahu last month signed a coalition deal with the centrist HaTnuah party of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who is to be justice minister and Israel's negotiator in talks with the Palestinians.

The new coalition, which will command a total of 68 seats in parliament, is expected to be sworn in on Monday.

At the insistence of Yesh Atid it will be the first in 29 years to exclude ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.

Copies of the coalition agreements published by Netanyahu's Likud party said Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid would be finance minister and that his party, which has 19 seats in parliament, would also take the education, social services, health, and science and technology portfolios.

Jewish Home, which won 12 seats, receives a newly named economy and trade portfolio along with housing and pensioners' affairs.

Its leader, Naftali Bennett, becomes a member of the powerful security cabinet.

The party, which is close to the Jewish settlement movement, also gets two seats on the ministerial committee dealing with settler affairs.

Yesh Atid, which campaigned for a juster society, gets a place on the committee for the advancement of the status of women.

The agreements also leaves the door open for other parties to join the coalition inn the future.

The allocation of ministries within the alliance of Netanyahu's Likud party and former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman's hardline Yisrael Beitenu has not been announced.

With more outgoing Likud ministers than seats he can offer them in the new, slimmer administration Yesh Atid insisted upon, Netanyahu may still have some tough manoeuvring to do within his own camp.

Netanyahu is expected to handle foreign affairs temporarily, pending the conclusion of Lieberman's trial on charges of fraud and breach of trust.

The Likud is also to take charge of the defence and interior ministries, according to press reports.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130316/israels-netanyahu-forms-new-government-set-third-term