Israel’s Netanyahu says deal agreed with far-right to form gov’t

Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreement sees him return to power as head of the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history.

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu stands among members of the new Israeli parliament after a swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem in November 2022 [File: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu said he has secured a deal to form a new government with hardline religious and far-right political partners, which will see him return to power as the head of the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history.

Following his November 1 election win, Netanyahu secured a mandate to form a government backed by ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and an extreme-right bloc that ran under the Religious Zionism alliance.

A deadline to conclude coalition talks had been set to expire at midnight on Wednesday.

Minutes before midnight, Netanyahu informed Israel’s President Isaac Herzog by phone that he had “been able to establish a government”, according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

It was not immediately clear when the new government would be sworn in. Netanyahu told Herzog he intended to do so “as soon as possible”.

“I have managed (to form a government),” he said on Twitter. A Herzog spokesperson confirmed the statement had been received.

Netanyahu, who is fighting corruption allegations in court, had already served as Israel’s premier longer than anyone in the country’s history – including a stint between 1996 and 1999 and a 12-year tenure from 2009 to 2021.

Among his most controversial moves to form his coalition has been a promise to give an expanded security ministry to the head of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Power party, Itamar Ben Gvir, who has a long history of using incendiary rhetoric against Palestinians.

The government roles Netanyahu has promised to hardliners such as Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, from the far-right Religious Zionism party, have shocked Palestinians and liberal Israelis.

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich oppose Palestinian statehood and support extending Israeli control over the occupied West Bank.

Itamar Ben-Gvir
Jewish Power party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir (left) following the announcement of exit polls in Israel’s general election in November 2022 [File: Corinna Kern/Reuters]

Ben-Gvir is expected to serve as security minister with authority over the police, while Smotrich’s Israeli settler party will have control over planning in the occupied West Bank, giving it wide powers over the lives of Palestinians and opening the door to an expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

Ben-Gvir also wants to take greater control over the police with legislation that would give him direct authority over policy matters normally decided by the police commissioner.

Another coalition partner Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, is bidding to become finance minister, despite a conviction for tax fraud. He would take over the ministry for two years under a shared arrangement with Smotrich, who would serve for the first two years of the government’s term.

Also in the coalition is Avi Maoz – head of a small, religious, anti-LGBTQ faction – who has been placed in control of parts of Israel’s national education system and appointed a deputy minister in charge of “Jewish identity”.

The new government, which Netanyahu must reportedly present within a week, will take office after a year that has seen the worst levels of violence in the occupied West Bank in more than 10 years with more than 150 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces and some 20 Israeli killed.

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from West Jerusalem, said Netanyahu’s partners had, until now, been on the fringes of Israel’s political spectrum and Palestinians seem to be preparing for the worst.

“No one is expecting this government to follow any paths towards peace,” McBride said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies