Israel's Netanyahu returns to power with extreme-right govt | Inquirer News

Israel’s Netanyahu returns to power with extreme-right govt

/ 05:02 AM December 30, 2022


Newly sworn-in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives for the first cabinet meeting of his new government in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. – Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister after a stint in opposition, heading what analysts call the most right-wing government in the country’s history. (Photo by Ariel Schalit / POOL / AFP)

JERUSALEM — Israel’s hawkish veteran Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister Thursday after a stint in opposition, heading what analysts call the most right-wing government in the country’s history.

Netanyahu, 73, who is fighting corruption charges in court, had already served as premier longer than anyone in Israeli history, leading the country from 1996-1999 and 2009-2021.


Parliament voted to approve his government and elected former minister Amir Ohana as the Knesset’s first openly gay speaker.


In his first cabinet meeting Thursday evening, Netanyahu said his key missions were “to thwart Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal” and “restore security and sovereignty within Israel”.

He also vowed to tackle the rising cost of living, and voiced hopes of “expanding the circle of peace” with Arab countries, following US-brokered normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.

His former Israeli intelligence minister Eli Cohen, an architect of the normalization agreements, was named as foreign minister.

Netanyahu was ousted in June 2021 by a motley coalition of leftists, centrists and Arab parties headed by right-winger Naftali Bennett and former TV news anchor Yair Lapid.

Following his November 1 election win, Netanyahu entered into talks with ultra-Orthodox and extreme-right parties, among them Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism formation and Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party.

Both have a history of inflammatory remarks about Palestinians.


Smotrich will now take charge of Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank, and Ben-Gvir will be the national security minister with powers over the police, which also operates in the territory occupied by Israel since 1967.

‘Thirst for power’

Senior officials have already voiced concern over the new government’s direction — as have Palestinians.

But US President Joe Biden on Thursday said he would work with Netanyahu, calling him a “friend” while vowing to oppose policies that endanger a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was similarly welcoming, expressing “hope that the new government… will continue the line of strengthening Russian-Israeli cooperation”, according to the Kremlin.

In a statement of policy priorities released Wednesday, Netanyahu’s Likud party said the government will pursue settlement expansion.

About 475,000 Jewish settlers — among them Smotrich and Ben-Gvir — live there in settlements considered illegal under international law.

“It becomes for Netanyahu’s partners a dream government,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank.

“And one side’s dream is the other side’s nightmare,” he added.

Israel’s ambassador to France, Yael German, resigned Thursday in protest over the new government, saying its program was contrary to her “conscience and vision of the world.”

Analysts said Netanyahu offered the extreme-right vast concessions in the hope he might obtain judicial immunity or cancellation of his corruption trial.

Smotrich and Ben-Gvir “have a very strong thirst for power,” and their priority remains the expansion of West Bank settlements, said Denis Charbit, professor of political science at Israel’s Open University.

The government is the result of “Netanyahu’s political weakness, linked to his age and his trial, and the fact that you have a new political family of the revolutionary right that we had never seen with this strength in Israel,” Charbit added.

Fear of ‘explosion’

Ben-Gvir has repeatedly visited Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third-holiest site in Islam. It is also Judaism’s holiest, known as the Temple Mount.

Under a historical status quo, non-Muslims can visit the sanctuary but may not pray there. Palestinians would see a visit by a serving Israeli minister as a provocation.

“If Ben-Gvir as minister goes to Al-Aqsa, it will be a big red line and it will lead to an explosion,” said Basem Naim, a senior official with the Islamist movement Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Hamas fought a war in May 2021. This year, other Gaza militants and Israel exchanged rocket and missile fire for three days in August.

In the West Bank, violence has surged this year and many are afraid of more unrest.

On Tuesday, outgoing Defence Minister Benny Gantz had expressed fear over the “extremist direction” of the incoming administration.

“I think that if the government acts in an irresponsible way, it could cause a security escalation,” he said.

But at a rally gathering thousands of people in Ramallah Thursday, Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said “this new, far-right government doesn’t frighten us”.

“We remain steadfast and will continue. It is revolution until statehood and victory,” he added.


Netanyahu set to retake power at head of far-right government

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Israel’s Netanyahu forms new government

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