Netanyahu announces new government with sweeping powers to far-right allies


TEL AVIV — Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu announced the formation of the most far-right government in the country’s history Wednesday night, marking the imminent return of its longest-serving leader and granting an unprecedented portion of power to his far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies, who have vowed to make far-reaching legislative changes in the country.

Netanyahu said that the new coalition, which includes once-fringe ultranationalist and ultrareligious parties, would serve “all citizens of Israel.” He has said that he aims to swear in the new government in the coming week.

Most of the agreements made after a month and a half of marathon negotiations between Netanyahu and his six coalition partners have not been finalized. But members of the new government have already sparked concern among Israelis and among members of the international community over bills that seek to prioritize Israel’s Jewish character over its democratic one.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides has refused to comment in Israeli media on the question of working with far-right members of the government. But he said that he would work with Netanyahu, who has promised that his “hands are on the wheel,” he said in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The Religious Zionism bloc, made up of formerly fringe far-right parties and which propelled Netanyahu back to power, has called to cancel the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, increase funding for Israel’s ultra-Orthodox minority, hollow out the judicial system, and legitimize Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank so as to operationally, if not legally, set the stage for Israeli annexation of that disputed territory. The move would signal the end of prospects for a two-state solution, in which a Palestinian state would exist alongside Israel.

The firebrand politician and West Bank settler Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted of incitement and racism and was barred from serving in the Israeli military due to his activism in extremist organizations, is set to be the minister of national security. The rebranded and expanded portfolio will allow him to exercise unprecedented control over the Israeli police and over forces that operate in the occupied West Bank.

His Jewish Power Party may also be granted representative power in the committee in charge of appointing Israeli judges, according to Israeli media. He is also among the proponents of a bill that would allow the parliamentary partners to override decisions made by the Supreme Court, which often rules in favor of human rights issues and against settlement expansion in the West Bank, and has long been seen as the last standing liberal bastion in a country that has sharply pivoted to the right over the past two decades.

“Without judicial review and independent legal advice, we remain with only the principle of majority rule; a democracy in name but not in essence,” warned Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at a conference in Haifa last week, referring to the series of bills that the new government plans to enact.

Netanyahu swept to power in the Nov. 1 elections, the fifth held in less than four years. His win ended an elongated political stalemate that stemmed from questions around his fitness as a leader while he remains embroiled in an ongoing corruption trial.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party has in recent years been the largest in Israeli politics, and was able to clinch 64 out of 120 Knesset seats in the recent round of elections due to the support of ultra-Orthodox and newly united far-right Religious Zionism bloc.

His extremist, ideologically driven allies have made demands that have held up coalition negotiations, and compelled Netanyahu to request an extension to his four-week mandate to form a government.

On Dec. 9, Israeli President Issac Herzog granted Netanyahu a 10-day extension, with the caveat that the new government must respect the rights of minorities and that it “must preserve the powerful bond with the Jewish Diaspora.”

Netanyahu’s ultranationalist, ultra Orthodox political allies have announced plans to change the Law of Return, a 1950 law that guarantees citizenship for all Jews, from any country in the world, who can prove to have at least one Jewish grandparent and which is widely seen as a fundamental legislative framework through which Israel supports the diversity of the Jewish diaspora.

The formation of the new government also coincides with an escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has reached the deadliest level for both Israelis and Palestinians in years. Members of the coalition have advocated changing the status quo on the Temple Mount, the flash point holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City that has for decades been central to both the Israeli and Palestinian battles for sovereignty, and giving a freer hand to Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, in what critics warn could further ignite tensions.

Minutes after the formation of the government was announced, at least one Palestinian was killed in a clash with the Israeli army, which had accompanied Jewish worshipers to a sensitive religious site in Nablus, a city in the occupied West Bank.

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