Benjamin Netanyahu finally stitches together an unusual coalition

Netanyahu casting his vote Photo: Reuters

This morning the world’s Catholics have a new Pope. And the people of Israel have a new government. For the latter, it has been a long, long wait.

The conclave of cardinals was a swift and efficient operation compared to the complex, at times mind numbing, machinations revolving round Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is, after all, more than fifty days since Israelis went to the polls. So tortuous was the post-election wheeling and dealing, that for a while, it even looked like President Obama and his team might have no government to meet when he arrives in Jerusalem next week.

The coalition that Netanyahu has finally stitched together is unusual for the omission of parties that represent Israel’s burgeoning Ultra Orthodox community.

Instead it will be dominated by secular powers – from the centre, Yesh Atid, whose leader is the photogenic former TV journalist Yair Lapid, gets the finance and education ministries; potentially bad news for religious Jews.

Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid stands behind Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres last month Credit: Reuters

And from the right, Habayit Hayehudi, the party that has championed Israel’s settlers – the 300,000 plus Jews who have made homes in the West Bank on land earmarked for a Palestinian state.

Ahead of the election, its leader, Naftali Bennett, told me that the establishment of such a state would be a disaster for Israel.

Now Mr Bennett’s party has control of, among other ministries, housing.

Some Israel commentators already see all this as a triumph for the settler movement. Others predict that an alliance of strange bed-fellows led by a much weakened Prime Minister cannot last.

Meanwhile, expectations for President Obama’s trip were already low. At first glance, the make-up of the new Israeli government would seem to do nothing to raise hopes of meaningful peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.