Up to a point, it's easy to find fault with the new coalition government being formed in Israel this week - and plenty of Israelis themselves are highly critical.

The coalition between the two major parties - the right Likud and the center-left Labor - leaves voters without a strong opposition to turn to if they become dissatisfied with the status quo. With Likud and Labor getting an equal number of ministers in the Cabinet, the new arrangement seems to guarantee a deadlock on the issues over which the two parties are at odds - whether or not to withdraw from much of the West Bank and Gaza, make territorial concessions to Palestinians, and participate in international conferences aimed at achieving Middle East peace agreements.But even a flawed coalition is better than continuing to drift along with no new government at all following the Nov. 1 elections that left Israeli voters almost equally divided between Likud and Labor.

To some extent, the new coalition should create less confusion than the one it replaces. Yitzhak Shamir will remain prime minister, while Foreign Minister Shimon Peres will control the Finance Ministry and remain vice premier. Under the previous arrangement, the two periodically switched jobs.

Moreover, the new coalition seems preferable to the alternative in which Likud would share power with a number of small religious parties, an arrangement that could easily have given these fringe groups far more clout in the government than would be warranted by their strength in the election.

In any event, there's no shortage of tough challenges for the new coalition government. Among them are the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories, a bold new diplomatic offensive by the PLO, and a stagnating economy that has grown a mere 1 percent this year even though inflation is starting to creep up again. About all that's in short supply are new ideas for dealing with these problems.

Israel is bound to be saddled with unwieldy coalition governments as long as it puts up with a political system that invites the formation of a variety of parties. What's more, the coalitions are going to be particularly difficult until Israeli voters start showing a much more marked preference for either Likud or Labor.