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Netanyahu back with Israel's furthest-right government ever

About to establish his sixth government, Benjamin Netanyahu must partner exclusively with religious and far-right partners.
Former Israeli Prime Minister and Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu speak to the press after casting their vote in the Israeli general election, Jerusalem, Nov. 1, 2022.

TEL AVIV — When Benjamin Netanyahu returns to the prime minister’s office, he will be stronger than he has been in years. He begins his sixth term not only as the head of Israel’s largest political party, but also as the popular leader of the right-wing ultra-Orthodox bloc, which received over 2 million votes.

Like a phoenix, Netanyahu returned from the dead, and big time. Not only did he pass the 61-seat threshold — which he struggled so hard to do in the last four elections — but with his current 64 seats he has plenty of room to maneuver. The political crisis that has plagued Israel over the last few years ended with a knockout for Netanyahu and his supporters. They defeated the liberals, the political left and the Arabs, who came to power in 2021 under Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.

Netanyahu plans to form his government quickly. This new coalition will be different from all of Netanyahu’s previous governments, too. In all his previous governments, it was important for Netanyahu to bring a moderate party on board. In 2009, for example, though he could have formed an exclusively right-wing ultra-Orthodox government, he preferred to partner with labor leader Ehud Barak. But this time, there will be no center-left party. The right-wing Likud party will be the most moderate group in the coalition.

Netanyahu’s senior coalition partner now is the far-right Jewish Power party, which won 14 seats and became the third-largest party in the country. At the head of the party is Bezalel Smotrich and his No. 2 is Itamar Ben-Gvir. Both men live in the settlements and are considered to be ideologues of the radical right. They are religious conservatives and hard-core nationalists, whose campaign featured reducing the power of Israel’s courts. Smotrich presented a comprehensive plan for the reform of the legal system, which included overturning laws against the violation of public trust. That is, in fact, one of the charges that Netanyahu is facing in his trial.

As for new West Bank outposts and construction in the settlements, Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are much farther to the right than Netanyahu. They can be expected to challenge him and create constant conflict, even if this leads to tension with the international community.

Ben-Gvir campaigned on restoring “governance,” claiming that Israel lost its power of deterrence ever since it was led by a government that included an Arab party — Ra’am. He has already said he will demand for himself the public security minister position. This could prove to be very volatile. American official sources have already sent messages to Israel that they will have a hard time cooperating with him.

Nevertheless, Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are expected to become senior ministers in Netanyahu’s government and even to serve in his security Cabinet. Given their party’s size, they will also receive another two ministers at least. Netanyahu will need to find portfolios for them that do not cause too many problems with the international community and especially with the United States.

Next week, President Isaac Herzog is expected to give Netanyahu the task of forming a government. As noted, Netanyahu does not intend to waste any time. In fact, he is already busy forming his Cabinet and distributing senior posts.

At the same time, Netanyahu is trying to relay the message that his sixth government — as different as its composition will be — has no plans to trample on the legal system, or to enforce a religious lifestyle on the population. In his speech on election night, he sent a message of reconciliation and promised to do whatever he can to heal the rifts in the nation.

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