JERUSALEM — After six weeks of struggle, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared close Thursday night to finalizing a new governing coalition that may make significant changes on domestic issues like religious pluralism but is likely to be paralyzed on the Middle East peace process.
A weakened Netanyahu would be joined by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, two dynamic first-time politicians who represent vastly different constituencies but share a commitment to integrating ultra-Orthodox Jews into Israel’s military and workforce, and who teamed up to increase their negotiating power.
The coalition would, for only the third time since 1977, exclude Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties, but would give both Jewish settlers in the West Bank and the secular bourgeoisie of Tel Aviv more influence.
The three men were to sign final agreements Thursday, but the deal was held up by a last-minute dispute over whether Bennett and Lapid would have the titles of deputy prime minister, according to spokesmen for all three, who agreed that it was still likely to go through Friday. The deadline for forming a government is Saturday night, and President Barack Obama’s scheduled arrival in Israel on Wednesday has added to the urgency of concluding the negotiations.
Many analysts said the new government would underscore the refocusing of Israeli politics onto internal socioeconomic matters, including affordable housing, education and the role of religion in public life, and away from security and foreign policy issues, particularly the Palestinian conflict.
While the coalition agreement promises a return to negotiations with the Palestinians, the new housing minister, from Bennett’s nationalist Jewish Home Party, would be a former chief of the settlers’ council, complicating prospects for progress.
“It’s a government that, to a large extent, will depend on its ability to avoid decisions on core issues,” said Guy Ben-Porat, a professor of public policy at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. “People are very concerned with the tactics: who won what. I think it’s going to be measured at the end of the day by who does what, and how. There are two parameters — will the government survive, and will it do anything significant? — and these two things might have an inverse relationship.”
If the Palestinian question threatens to divide the parties, there may be more consensus on the middle-class themes that formed the campaign mantra — “sharing the burden” — of Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party, which won a surprising 19 seats in the Jan. 22 election.
Lapid, a television broadcaster, would be finance minister, and with a $10 billion budget deficit, there could be drastic cuts in subsidies to poor people. His party will also control education, and it has promised to overhaul the curriculum of religious schools.
Religion, diaspora affairs, and the Jerusalem portfolio will be overseen by Bennett, who will also be economics and trade minister.