World Citizen: Netanyahu’s Magic Act

No one ever accused Israel of having a boring political scene. True to form, its next prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pulled a rabbit out of a hat and, in one dramatic move, transformed the shape of his incoming administration. A government that was expected to empower a narrow right-wing coalition will now include the leftist Labor party. As a result, the incoming government will look much more palatable to the international community as well as to Palestinians. In addition, Netanyahu hopes, his coalition will prove much more stable and durable.

Netanyahu, a former prime minister and leader of the rightist Likud party, had already maintained that he wanted what Israelis call a "national unity government," meaning one that encompasses a large segment of the political spectrum and enjoys a large majority in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. The results of the Feb. 10 election complicated that goal. Tzipi Livni's Kadima emerged with the largest number of parliamentary seats, 28, followed by Netanyahu's Likud at 27. In a stunning turn of events, third place went to Yisrael Beiteynu (YB), the party of right-wing populist Avigdor Lieberman. That left Labor, which ruled Israel for the first three decades of its existence, in a humiliating fourth place.

Despite Kadima's first place finish, Likud was charged with forming a government because it enjoyed the support of more parties. Labor's Ehud Barak, the current defense minister, promptly declared that his party would move into opposition and work to rebuild. Practically no one expected he would return to government under Netanyahu.

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