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Netanyahu has rocky road ahead in new coalition

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 9:18 p.m.

JERUSALEM — Forced to rely on the support of two fast-rising rivals in his new governing coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is confronting a reshaped and rocky landscape that could spell trouble ahead: An unwanted culture war with the country's ultra-Orthodox minority as well as pressure to make peace overtures to the Palestinians.

After weeks of difficult negotiations, Netanyahu, who barely hung onto his job, was forced to cede significant power to his new partners, liberal former TV anchorman Yair Lapid and his unlikely ally, pro-settlement hard-liner Naftali Bennett.

Both men make no secret that they want to be prime minister one day, and each can bring down the government at will.

This new constellation is expected to force the cautious Netanyahu, who presided over a broad and stable coalition during his previous four-year term, to confront some of the nation's most contentious issues.

Both Lapid and Bennett have vowed to end years of preferential treatment for the country's small but politically powerful ultra-Orthodox minority. Lapid and the junior partner in the coalition, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, will also put heavy pressure on Netanyahu to take a softer line toward the Palestinians. With President Obama visiting next week, Netanyahu could be forced sooner than later to make difficult decisions about the Palestinians.

“The next term will be one of the most challenging in the history of the state,” Netanyahu said on Thursday. “We are facing great security and diplomatic challenges.”

The ultra-Orthodox minority makes up roughly 8 percent of the country's 8 million people. Their political parties have traditionally wielded power far beyond their numbers by guaranteeing a string of prime ministers a parliamentary majority.

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