Prime Minister Netanyahu‘s conservative Likud party emerged as the big winner in March elections. Six weeks later, the complex negotiations that come with Israel's multi-party system leave him with a problematic coalition.
Tel Aviv (dpa) - The nationalist-religious government formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel‘s most right-wing since the 1990s, with all the risks that entails.
Naftali Bennett, Benjamin Netanyahu, Moshe Kahlon and Arie Deri.
During his first term from 1996 to 1999, Netanyahu led a similar right-wing and ultra-Orthodox coalition. At that time, he tried to roll back the Oslo interim peace accords, signed only three years earlier.
It was only under international pressure that he signed the 1997 Hebron Protocol and the 1998 Wye River Memorandum, which saw staged Israeli withdrawals from parts of the West Bank where the Palestinians gained autonomy.
Netanyahu tried to get away with the absolute minimum in implementing the interim deal signed by his predecessor as he was losing many supporters on the right for talking to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
All right-wing governments, including Netanyahu‘s second and third ones, after that had at least one dovish partner.
Now, Netanyahu is back to his "natural partners" - the members of the right-wing religious camp, without any "fig leaf" like former justice minister and peace negotiator Tzipi Livni as a balancing factor.
What does this mean for Israel‘s foreign relations? Critics fear deep international isolation, while doomsday thinkers warn of Israel becoming a pariah state.
The coalition agreements that Netanyahu‘s Likud party signed last week with the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) parties and with the Kulanu party of finance minister-designate Moshe Kahlon do not even mention the peace process.
Kahlon, a centre-right former Likud member, is almost exclusively preoccupied with socio-economic issues. The focus of the ultra-Orthodox parties is domestic.
They have extracted many concessions from Netanyahu, including a reversal of secular reforms introduced by the previous government. Planned criminal sanctions against ultra-Orthodox Torah students who refuse to report for military service, for example, will be cancelled.
It is clear to everyone how powerful the religious parties have once again become.
The pro-settler Jewish Home party of education minister-designate Naftali Bennett opposes any withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and has demanded a clause promising extensive construction in settlements.
A day before the elections, as he sought to draw voters from Jewish Home to Likud, Netanyahu vowed that no Palestinian state would be established under his watch. In subsequent interviews with foreign media he attempted damage control, but those words have further eroded international trust in him.
At home, there are already questions being raised about the longevity of such a coalition.
During his last term Netanyahu had complained that the coalition parties blackmailed him and would not let him govern.
His current coalition has 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. After six weeks of negotiations, a one-seat majority is hardly the outcome he had hoped for.
Israeli political scientist Avraham Diskin argued that a small majority coalition could at times be more stable than a big one.
"Policy distances are smaller in a small government, so you have fewer issues to argue about," the Hebrew University professor told dpa.
But other analysts disagreed.
"Netanyahu, welcome to your fourth government - in which not just every party will blackmail you, but each legislator," said Israel Radio‘s Yoav Krakovsky.
Every single coalition lawmaker "can suddenly develop a toothache on the very day that Netanyahu wants to pass the budget or vote on a dramatic bill or some kind of meaningful reform," he continued.
"Netanyahu began the coalition negotiations as the big winner and emerged from them as a small loser," said another leading Israeli commentator, Ben Caspit.
His government‘s "ability to survive crises and to push through reforms is next to nil," added Caspit, of the Maariv daily.
"All that Netanyahu can do now is hope that (Labour Party leader) Herzog can be persuaded to join the government in another few weeks or months. Netanyahu will have to offer Herzog an alternating premiership in order to achieve that."
Will a promise of a constitutional reform to get Israel‘s out of its extortion-prone multi-party system mess tempt Herzog?
On Thursday, at least, Herzog seemed clear: "We will not be a fifth wheel and we don‘t intend to save Netanyahu from the pit that he dug for himself."
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