Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on May 10, 2015
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on May 10, 2015 © Sebastian Scheiner - Pool/AFP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on May 10, 2015
Last updated: May 12, 2015

Israel court rules key vote on ministers can proceed

Israel's parliament on Monday passed the first reading of a bill which would effectively enlarge the cabinet, in the first test of strength for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new coalition.

After the vote in the Knesset plenum, which was approved by 61 to 59, speaker Yuli Edelstein formally announced that Netanyahu had succeeded in forming a coalition government.

"I am honoured to announce to the Knesset that according to Basic Law: The Government, the prime minister has managed to forming a government," he said in remarks published on Ynet news website.

He now has seven days -- or until next Monday -- to have his new lineup sworn in, the website said.

Members of Netanyahu's new government, which commands a razor-thin majority of just 61 of the Knesset's 120 seats, were all present to vote in favour, as were all members of the opposition who have vowed to try and block the bill.

The bill seeks to delay implementation of a basic law on government passed last year which limited the number of ministers serving under the premier to 18.

The amendment would effectively allow Netanyahu to have a broader cabinet, to increase the number of deputy ministers and to appoint ministers without portfolio in order to satisfy the demands of senior figures within his ruling rightwing Likud party.

The law capping the number of ministers was approved last year in an attempt to reduce public spending.

A special committee formed to advance the bill was to quickly prepare it for its second and third reading, the website of the Haaretz daily said, indicating that opposition members were likely to continue staging filibusters in order to draw out the process.

Earlier, the High Court rejected a petition against the bill tabled by the centrist Yesh Atid party, whose head Yair Lapid was instrumental in putting together the law when he was finance minister.

The court's ruling cleared the way for the vote in the Knesset.

- Minister elect threatened -

Getting the legislation through will be the first of many likely challenges for Netanyahu's fledgling coalition.

"This is a dramatic test for the coalition that will show how it will be able to work within the narrow format of just 61 MPs," said the top-selling Yediot Aharonot of the battle to push through the bill.

Earlier, Edelstein told the radio that he would give the opposition time to express their position and that the bill was unlikely to be voted into law by Tuesday.

But he said the time for opposition would be limited because of the need to put the new government in place.

Netanyahu's alliance was built over weeks of intensive negotiations following a March general election, at the cost of major concessions to his coalition partners and resentment within his own party.

One of the most controversial concessions was to hand the justice portfolio to the far-right Jewish Home party which said it would be given to an outspoken and controversial female MP called Ayelet Shaked.

But since being tapped for the position, Shaked has complained of threats being made against her, including death threats, prompting the Knesset to assign her a protection detail.

Unidentified opponents posted a photomontage of the telegenic MP online wearing a Nazi uniform in an image which prompted the decision to assign her a security guard, Edelstein told army radio.

"We won't allow anyone to threaten parliamentarians and we will do whatever necessary so they can carry out their mission," he said.

The appointment of Shaked, a secular 39-year-old from Tel Aviv, sparked a furious response from the Palestinians who have denounced her as an extremist who "advocated genocide".

They were referring to remarks attributed to her as well as a Facebook post which was deleted but widely picked up by the Israeli media in which she likened the Palestinians to "snakes".

Opposition parties also expressed concern at the nomination of an MP who has been at the forefront of efforts to curb the powers of the Supreme Court.

Netanyahu's new coalition, which was announced late on May 6 -- just an hour before a legal deadline -- comprises five parties: Likud (30 seats), the centre-right Kulanu (10 seats), Jewish Home (eight) and the two ultra-Orthodox parties Shas (seven) and United Torah Judaism (six).

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