Israel’s Netanyahu came knocking to form the next government

Israel’s Netanyahu came knocking to form the next government


Israel’s veteran ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured a mandate to form a new government on Sunday, paving the way for his comeback at the helm of what is likely to be the most far-right government in the country’s history.

After a period of unprecedented political deadlock that forced five elections in less than four years, the November 1 polls gave Netanyahu and his far-right allies a clear majority in the 120-seat parliament.

“I have decided to give you, Benjamin Netanyahu, the task of forming a government,” President Isaac Herzog told him at a ceremony in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu, 73, accepted the mandate and vowed to serve all Israelis, “those who voted for us and those who didn’t — it’s my responsibility.”

The veteran right winger, who is fighting corruption charges in court, will have at least 28 days to form a coalition with his allies – two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and a nascent far-right alliance called Religious Zionism.

Referring to the ongoing trial of Netanyahu, Herzog said: “Of course, I am not aware that there is a pending trial against Mr Netanyahu in the Jerusalem District Court, and I am in no way trivializing it.”

However, he noted that recent precedent has made it clear that Netanyahu can act as prime minister while he challenges the allegations.

Netanyahu’s next moves are coming under scrutiny as unease grows in some quarters about his political agenda and the goals of his controversial government partners.

The new government is widely expected to enact sweeping judicial reforms, a long-held priority for the Israeli right. This could include what is known as a “bridging clause,” giving Parliament the power to overrule the Supreme Court whenever it declares laws unlawful.

Netanyahu’s government could also assume full control over the appointment of Supreme Court justices, a role currently performed by a panel of lawmakers, sitting judges and attorneys.

“It’s hard for me to exaggerate the harm and danger” of the proposed reforms, said Suzie Navot, professor of constitutional law at the Israel Democracy Institute think tank.

– “Very sensitive questions” –

Netanyahu can request a two-week extension to his original mandate, but is expected to announce a coalition deal relatively quickly given the broad ideological consensus within the new government.

Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, co-leaders of the religious Zionist bloc, have publicly demanded control of two key ministries – public security and defence.

Ben-Gvir, an arsonist known for his anti-Arab rhetoric and his inflammatory calls for Israel to annex the entire West Bank, has repeatedly urged the security services to use more force to quell the Palestinian unrest.

Violence between Israel and the Palestinians has escalated this year.

According to the United Nations, the past few months have been the deadliest in years in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with almost daily raids by the army and an increase in clashes and attacks on Israeli forces.

Netanyahu’s previous tenures saw what was left of the Middle East peace process collapse in a wave of Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.

Herzog, whose role is largely symbolic, is said to have tried to persuade outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his Defense Minister Benny Gantz to form a unified cabinet with Netanyahu to prevent Ben-Gvir from entering the government.

The presidency publicly denied the allegations.

But Herzog told Ben-Gvir this week that he had “received questions from Israeli citizens and world leaders … very sensitive human rights issues.”

“There is a certain image of you and your party that seems to be worrying in many ways, and I’ll be honest,” he added.

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