MIDDLE EAST

Israel's new government sworn in, but Netanyahu gets heckled first

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new Cabinet sworn in after a stormy session in parliament

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new Cabinet was sworn in late Thursday after a stormy session in parliament that included heckling by lawmakers at the mention of the government striving for peace with Palestinians.

The recent election campaign and difficulties in forming a ruling coalition during the last two months, messy even for Israel’s unruly political system, has left a lingering bad taste among opposition and coalition lawmakers alike, marring Thursday’s normally festive event.

Pledging to work on behalf of all Israeli citizens, Netanyahu told the parliament, or Knesset, that the new government would “preserve Israel’s security.” But the rest of his sentence — “We will preserve the peace” — was met with guffaws and heckling from Arab lawmakers, three of whom were promptly removed from the plenum.

The guidelines for Netanyahu's new government do not commit to a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians and talks have not been renewed for a peace agreement. 

Having secured a coalition of only 61 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament, the slimmest majority legally possible, Netanyahu was forced to meet a long list of demands for appointments and budgets. A somewhat worn-looking Netanyahu, who begins a fourth term as prime minister, said the system “encourages exaggerated demands from parties and individuals.”

Netanyahu’s speech was short and expressly un-festive. It was constantly interrupted.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, head of the Zionist Union, took his opportunity before parliament to criticize Netanyahu and the new Cabinet.

“You didn’t form a government, you formed a circus. The Netanyahu Circus,” he said, referring to the narrow majority of the coalition. “It is a government with no work plan, with no hope.”

Sobelman is a special correspondent.

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