Netanyahu Builds His Government

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The Tzipi Livni Party, also known as Hatnua (The Movement), became the first to join Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government.

Netanyahu and Livni made the announcement at a joint press conference in Jerusalem Tuesday evening.

"We have signed a coalition agreement between the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu and Hatnua," Netanyahu said at the press conference. "Livni will serve as justice minister in my government," he said, adding that she will be a "senior partner" in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

As foreign minister in Ehud Olmert's government, Livni also served as chief negotiator in closed-door negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

As Kadima chairwoman when the party held 28 Knesset seats in 2009, Livni turned down Netanyahu's invitation to join a unity government, preferring to lead the opposition.

Before the 2013 election, Livni vowed she would "not sit in a government with a Bennett policy," but she put differences aside as leader of a six-member party.

"Our common goal was reached after hours of conversation following the elections," Livni said, adding that "when there's a common goal, you put aside your differences."

Zahava Gal-on, chairwoman of the ultra-left-wing Meretz Party, blasted Livni's decision.

"When Tzipi Livni entered the election race, moments before the deadline for filing lists, she decimated the hope that a center-left government would be formed," Gal-on said. "Today, despite all the slogans she spread during her campaign, she is the first to go crawling into the forming right-wing coalition," the party's leader wrote on her Facebook page, The Times of Israel reported.

"Livni's entrance into the government is a slap in the face for her voters, who dreamed of a diplomatic shift and discovered that their votes were stolen and given to the right," Gal-on added.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party, with 11 seats, may be the next party to join the coalition. While Lapid said he wouldn't sit in a coalition with Shas, Netanyahu has indicated he would not sever his long-standing ties with the party, now co-led by Arieh Deri and Eli Yishai.

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef chose Yishai to replace Deri while he served a prison sentence for taking bribes as interior minister. Deri was released early for good behavior and reinstated as party chairman last October.

The Shas chairman welcomed Netanyahu's announcement, saying "Tzipi Livni brings with her years of experience, which I am sure will aid us in overcoming the challenges we face."

Meanwhile, negotiations with Yesh Atid (There is a Future) chairman Yair Lapid and Haybayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) head Naftali Bennett broke down when the two chairmen formed an alliance for entering the government, based on a mutual commitment to end exemption from compulsory military service for yeshiva (Torah seminary) students and tax exemptions for large ultra-Orthodox families.

"There is no country in the world that can survive when half of its citizens don't participate in the game, neither socially, or financially, or security-wise," Lapid said before the election.

Bennett said appointing Livni to head negotiations with the P.A. "will make it hard" for his party to join the coalition.

"Putting negotiations in the hands of the person who managed the talks on Jerusalem and who was responsible for the disengagement plan [from the Gush Katif Bloc in the Gaza Strip] will make it hard for Habayit Hayehudi to come to the table as part of coalition discussions."

Netanyahu has reportedly also been trying to woo Labor chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich by offering her the finance portfolio.

During the election, Yachimovich vowed never to join a Netanyahu-led government, saying their differences were far too extensive to work together. During the campaign, she tried to convince Livni to join a left-wing bloc to defeat Netanyahu.

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