Israel's Likud-led coalition government is coming together as Wednesday's deadline approaches, but not without some last minute excitement.
The religious Shas party joined the government today after its leader Aryeh Deri was offered the position of Economy Minister. Shas also received the Religious Affairs Ministry, Negev and Galilee Development Ministry, and a deputy ministerial position in the Finance Ministry. These positions consolidate religious control of civil affairs in Israel and will likely help to preserve social welfare payouts to religious Jewish families.
More interestingly, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman announced after a protracted series of negotiations that the party would not join the coalition. This is a major shift for the party which in 2013 ran on a joint list with Likud. Lieberman has served as Israel's Foreign Minister since 2009 with a break from 2012-13 while he was under indictment. Lieberman's departure opens the Foreign Minister position, which is usually given to a major coalition partner. It gives Prime Minster Netanyahu an unexpected bargaining chip as he attempts to seal a coalition of 61 seats or greater in the coming days.
At the same time, Lieberman's departure from the coalition poses a challenge to Netanyahu on two fronts. First, it gives Lieberman free reign to criticize the Prime Minister's lack of "true conservative credentials." Netanyahu himself played this role against Tzipi Livni back in 2009. Ironically, one of Netanyahu's original reasons for calling snap elections was to weaken rivals from the far right. In this particular aspect, however, Lieberman and the Yisrael Beiteinu party may be emboldened to criticize the Prime Minister's policies and make it harder for him to advance an agenda without political cost.
Secondly, Lieberman's departure opens a political space for Naftali Bennett and HaBayit HaYehudi. Widely considered a mover and shaker on the Israeli political scene, Bennett will no longer be competing with Lieberman for influence in the coalition. That being said, he may be competing for control of the religious Zionist narrative. Nonetheless, the absence of Yisrael Beiteinu ministers gives a number of opportunities to HaBayit HaYehudi candidates to gain experience - and influence - in the next Israeli government. In the long term, these capabilities will pose a challenge to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who in many ways represents the old guard of the Israeli right.