(JNS.org) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party narrowly formed a coalition government with the addition of the religious Zionist Jewish Home (Habayit Hayehudi) party just two hours before the final deadline of midnight on Wednesday.
Jewish Home's decision to join the coalition establishes a Likud-led government of 61 Knesset members—the minimum number required to form a coalition—with Kulanu, Shas, and United Torah Judaism.
"Finally, there's a government in Israel," Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett said after the coalition announcement, Yedioth Ahronoth reported. "This isn't a right-wing government, it isn't a left-wing government, and it isn't a center government. It's a government of the entire nation of Israel."
"I want to tell you, Mr. Prime Minister, we are behind you. We will help and aid you for the success of the government under your leadership," Bennett added.
Jewish Home agreed to join after Netanyahu agreed to its demand to appoint MK Ayelet Shaked as justice minister. Netanyahu also named Bennett as the new education minister and outgoing construction minister Uri Ariel as the new agriculture minister.
The announcement that a coalition has been formed follows days of tense negotiations, including some days with no communication between Likud and Jewish Home. Talks were renewed on Tuesday evening, after Likud officials applied heavy pressure on Jewish Home officials and religious Zionist rabbis to push Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett to sign a coalition deal.
Likud MK Miri Regev had said, "I call on Bennett to immediately join the government, enabling the establishment of a nationalist government. It is time to start working and stop playing 'all-you-can-eat' games.'"
On the other side, Jewish Home had accused Likud of humiliating it during the course of the coalition talks, particularly when Likud gave Shas control of the rabbinical courts and did not agree to appoint a Jewish Home member as deputy religious services minister.
Had Netanyahu not been able to reach a coalition by the midnight deadline, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin would have had to hold another round of consultations with party leaders and then give another party head, most likely Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, the mandate to form the government—or he could have even called for a new election.