Netanyahu set to present new Israeli government

Israel Materials 31 March 2009 10:34 (UTC +04:00)

Completing a period of intense coalition negotiations, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu was set to present his government Tuesday afternoon, seven weeks after Israel's elections, dpa reported.

   Netanyahu formally requested the Knesset, Israel's parliament, to hold a special session and swear in the new government.

   The session was scheduled to start at 5 pm (1400 GMT).

   The incoming premier held last-minute talks with lawmakers of his own Likud party, distributing ministerial portfolios amongst them. They were the last the learn which posts they had been appointed to, sparking initial bitterness among some, after Netanyahu was forced to appoint leaders of his main coalition partners to senior ministries.

   After lengthy speculation, Likud lawmaker Yuval Steinitz is to be finance minister, a post Netanyahu had first intended to keep for himself, Israel media reported Tuesday.

   His largest coalition partner is the ultra-nationalist Israel Beiteinu party of Avigdor Lieberman, who will be foreign minister, followed by the left-to-center Labour Party of Ehud Barak, who will be defence minister. Other coalition partners are the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and the pro-settler Jewish Home.

   If his main Likud rival Silvan Shalom is to enter the cabinet, Netanyahu will have a mammoth cabinet of 30 ministers, equaling the record set by former prime minister Ariel Sharon in his first term between 2001-03. He will also have many as eight deputy ministers.

   Netanyahu's Likud came in second in the February 10 elections, obtaining one mandate less than the centrist Kadima party of outgoing Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who will be opposition leader. President Shimon Peres tasked him with forming the government because he had better chances after the bloc of right-wing parties became a majority in the Knesset.