STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Israel's prime minister has formed a national unity government. Like all Israeli leaders, Benjamin Netanyahu leads a coalition government in parliament. He needs to put together multiple parties to have a majority. And by adding the centrist Kadima party to his side, Netanyahu increases his support and avoids the possibility of having to call an early election. NPR's. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us on the line from Israel to tell us what it all means. Lourdes, hi.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: So where did this deal come from?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, it was totally unexpected, Steve. Apparently, talks had been going on in secret for several days. The move, though, is being touted as a political masterstroke by analysts and pundits here. This has given Netanyahu an unshakable broad based mandate. There are now 94 members of the Knesset in the government and that's out of 120. That's the biggest coalition in Israel's history.
In fact, one commentator said this: No party can topple him. The new Netanyahu government is made of 100 tons of solid concrete.
INSKEEP: So Netanyahu's party, of course, is part of this coalition and the biggest opposition party to him as part of the coalition, if I'm not mistaken, or one of the biggest opposition parties. But what was it that prompted Netanyahu to have to go to his rivals, in effect, and seek some kind of alliance?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I mean, this is the big question. What does this mean, practically speaking? Netanyahu's critics have always said that he has the political ability but he lacks a vision and political will. What will he do with the mandate that he has? Kadima wants peace talks with the Palestinians.
It's less hawkish on Iran, and this new deal, though, in one fell swoop, allows Netanyahu to deal with some thorny domestic issues on the table, without having to worry about smaller parties bolting and bringing down the government. So this now allows him a lot of latitude in dealing with a lot of domestic issues and also international issues.
INSKEEP: Some people - is everybody happy about this development?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, listen. These are two parties and two men - Shaul Mofaz of Kadima and Benjamin Netanyahu, with some fundamental differences. And this is a coalition which encompasses a wide section of thoughts on some pretty fundamental issues. You have hard-line pro-settlers. You have the ultra religious. You have seculars.
Within Netanyahu's own party there has already been dissent. Deputy Parliament Speaker Danny Danon condemned the move, saying it gave Kadima a political lifeline it didn't deserve. Polls show that if elections had been held today, for example, Kadima would have fared very poorly. So people in Likud are asking why bring them onboard.
INSKEEP: Lourdes, you just said hard-line, pro-settlers when you were talking about some of the different groups who are now part of the government coalition, and that hints at one of the major issues that Israel will be dealing with in the years ahead - what to do or how to manage the settlement on the West Bank. What are Palestinians saying about this new coalition government?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, the reaction has been predictably cool. We spoke with Palestinian authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib and he says actions speak louder than words and they will wait and see what changes this new government enacts. So the Palestinians are adopting a wait a see policy. They really don't know what it means for them. But in the press conference that Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz just gave, the subject of the Palestinians came up.
Both men mentioned that they want to push forward the peace process with the Palestinians. What that practically means, of course, remains to be seen.
INSKEEP: And just very briefly, in the short-term, at least, Netanyahu has no need to call an election; is that right? He's not going anywhere.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He's not going anywhere. He has an unshakable mandate, as has been said, and it seems that this government is going at least to - for another year.
INSKEEP: Lourdes, thanks very much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is reporting from Israel today, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party has now formed a new coalition government, has a new coalition partner.
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