Israel’s Netanyahu back in power with hard-line government

Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday returned to power for an unprecedented sixth term

Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in this Thursday (29) as Israel’s new prime minister, making official what analysts consider the biggest shift to the right in the history of the Jewish country. In office, the traditional Israeli politician promises to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which should further increase friction with the Palestinians.

Winner of the November 1 legislative elections, Netanyahu presented his ministerial team to deputies in the morning and then managed to pass a confidence vote in Parliament – ​​the result was already expected, since his coalition has a majority in the House.

The coalition is expected to control 64 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, a relatively comfortable majority by Israeli standards. The last governments had narrower majorities, so the defections of one or two MPs resulted in the loss of control of Parliament – which is why the country has had five general elections in the last three years.

Netanyahu announced former intelligence minister Eli Cohen as the country’s new head of diplomacy. On Wednesday (28), he had already informed that Yoav Gallant, a former official close to the pro-settlement movement in the West Bank, would be with the Defense.

Bibi’s new government, as the now prime minister is called, is formed, in part, by the ultranationalist party bloc Otzmá Yehudit (Jewish Force). The Ministry of Finance, incidentally, will be subject to the extreme right leader Bezalel Smotrich – the portfolio will now be responsible for the colonization policy in the West Bank, which has already bothered the command of the country’s Armed Forces.

Itamar Ben Gvir, also from the extreme right, will be Minister of National Security and will control the police that operate in the West Bank, occupied since 1967. The choice was criticized by the country’s attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, who fears the risk “of politicization of the forces of order”.

Both extremists oppose the creation of a Palestinian state and have already made prejudiced statements against the LGBTQIA+ community and against the Arab minority – 21% of Israelis are Arab and, in a way, maintain friendly relations with Palestine. Ben-Gvir, incidentally, was convicted in 2007 of inciting against Arabs and supporting a militant Jewish group.

For now, of most concern to the international community and analysts alike is Netanyahu’s desire to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In practice, such a measure means converting land associated with Palestine into Israeli land and thus reducing the territory considered crucial for the creation of an eventual Palestinian state.

The prime minister’s conservative Likud party said Wednesday in its guidelines for the government that it would “promote and develop settlements” on land to which “the Jewish people have an exclusive and unassailable right.”

Currently, around 475,000 Jews live in settlements considered illegal under international law. Allies of Israel, the United States has warned that it would oppose any expansion of settlements or any attempt to annex this territory.

“These directives constitute a dangerous escalation and will have repercussions in the region,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The past confirms this: the last few times Israel tried to expand its settlements in the region, Hamas, a Palestinian fundamentalist group, reacted with violence, increasing tensions in the region.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu told parliament his government’s mission would also be to “thwart Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear arsenal, ensure Israel’s military superiority in the region and widen the circle of peace with Arab countries”.

Even for that reason, Bibi promised to increase diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, a former political opponent in the region – the two countries, curiously, are the main allies of the United States in the Middle East. Riyadh, however, did not signal that it intends to dissociate its diplomacy with Tel Aviv from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu, 73, is the politician who has led the government of Israel for the longest time, with 15 years divided into two terms (1996-1999 and 2009-2021). His last period as prime minister was marked by accusations of corruption, which paved the way for an eclectic coalition of left-wing politicians, centrists and Arab parties – the alliance, however, lasted just over a year and consecrated Bibi’s return to power.

“It’s a dream government for Netanyahu’s allies and a nightmare for others,” Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, told AFP news agency. “This government is expected to take the country on a completely new trajectory.”