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Netanyahu Vows 'Strong, Stable' Government


JERUSALEM, Israel -- By anyone's standard, it was the political equivalent of a photo finish. With less than two hours hours left to form the next government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented his 61-member coalition to President Reuven Rivlin just before midnight.

After hours of marathon negotiations, Netanyahu succeeded in cobbling together a small, but reasonably cohesive cabinet composed of men and women determined to tackle the complex issues facing the Jewish state.

Still, no one would argue that the current government with its razor-thin lead is vulnerable. It simply can't afford to lose another seat.

It's a decidedly nationalist government, made up of Likud, Jewish Home, Kulanu, United Torah Judaism and Shas.

Likud's 30-seat win over Zionist Union's 23 last March reflected the Israeli public's confidence in Netanyahu's ability to lead the country through tumultuous times. With elections behind him, the complex process of forming a government began.

Netanyahu was faced with the prospect of a narrow coalition when Yesh Atid chairman and former finance minister Yair Lapid bowed out, followed by Yisrael Beiteinu chairman and former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. They both joined the opposition.

While the prime minister expressed his desire for a broad coalition, Labor party chairman Yitzhak Herzog preferred to lead the opposition.

The Times of Israel quoted Herzog saying the new government will "advance nothing and will quickly be replaced by a responsible and hopeful alternative."

Herzog's coalition partner, Tzipi Livni, opined the government is bad for the Jewish state "in its method, in its world outlook, in its values, in its objectives," predicting "it will be easy to replace it with a government that will lead Israel in our method."

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP the new government "will be one of war which will be against peace and stability in our region."

But despite the gloom and doom, Netanyahu vowed that Israel would have a "strong, stable government." He remains open to expanding the coalition should parties in the opposition decide they can be more effective working inside rather than outside the government.

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