Israel’s parliament has sworn in Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, inaugurating the most far-right and religiously conservative government in the country’s history.
Netanyahu, 73, was sworn in on Thursday, moments after Israel’s parliament, or Knesset, passed a vote of confidence in his new government. Of the 120 members of parliament, 63 voted in favor of the new government, with 54 votes against.
His swearing in marks a personal return to power and the arrival of a government that has sown fear among Palestinians and Israelis on the left.
Al Jazeera’s Sara Khairat, reporting from West Jerusalem, said it had been in the works for nearly two months and was “a big win for Benjamin Netanyahu,” who joined a coalition which includes “a mix of ultra-Orthodox and right-wing bloc”.
The coalition, Khairat said, includes some of the “most right-wing politicians we’ve seen”. “They were on the fringes of politics and now they are on the main stage.”
“Even though the residents we spoke to said yes, the process is democratic, they are very deeply concerned about the laws that have been passed,” she said from outside the parliament, where Israelis of the left had gathered to protest. .
Netanyahu, who served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999 and again between 2009 and 2021, addressed a session of Israel’s parliament, or Knesset, ahead of the vote.
Netanyahu, along with his coalition partners, has a majority in the Knesset. He was heckled during his Knesset speech, with opponents chanting he was “weak”.
He said ending the “Arab-Israeli conflict” would be his top priority, along with halting Iran’s nuclear program and strengthening Israel’s military capabilities.
Netanyahu’s victory in the November 1 legislative elections was to end years of political turmoil in Israel, with governments falling repeatedly and elections held five times in less than four years.
Much of this was the result of intense political opposition to Netanyahu himself, who is on trial for corruption, an allegation he denies.
However, it took weeks of jostling and the introduction of new legislation to satisfy his far-right and ultranationalist coalition partners, as well as his own Likud party.
The result was a coalition that explicitly called settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, illegal under international law, its top priority.
This mirrors the positions of far-right leaders who have won high-level positions, such as Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich and Jewish Power leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, who have previously expressed support for Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish Israeli who killed 29 Palestinians in a shooting at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in 1994.
Israel is heading in a “very dangerous direction,” left-wing Knesset member Ofer Cassif told Al Jazeera during a protest outside parliament, adding that the arrival of the new government would mark Israel as a “fascist state.” in its own right”.
“The international community must be aware of this and act accordingly,” Cassif added.
The composition of the new government is likely to further strain relations with the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
Palestinians have already had their deadliest year since 2006, according to the United Nations, after Israel’s outgoing government launched an offensive in Gaza in August, as well as near-daily raids in the West Bank that led to dozens of murders and arrests.
Liberal Israelis have also expressed reservations about the new government, particularly its positions on LGBTQ rights and the top positions held by ultra-conservative religious figures.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who occupies a largely ceremonial role, has himself warned of the potential damage Israel’s new government could cause, and has already been caught on a hot mic saying the ‘whole world’ is worried about personalities such as Ben-Gvir entering the government.
Netanyahu has sought to dismiss some of those fears.
“We will establish a stable government for a full term that will take care of all Israeli citizens,” he said Wednesday after his Knesset supporters pushed through legislation that paved the way for him to take office. of his government.
A bill, which allows a minister serving a suspended sentence to take office, was specifically designed to allow the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri, to become a minister.
However, much of the attention and fear of the new government’s critics – Israelis and Palestinians alike – have focused on Smotrich and Ben-Gvir.
They are part of Israel’s broader religious Zionism ideological movement. The men’s split parties ran on a joint list in the November elections to ensure they would cross the electoral threshold before splitting again.
Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, who both live in illegal settlements in the West Bank, will hold senior positions in the new government – Smotrich will be finance minister and will also have authority over the settlements, while Ben-Gvir, who has was convicted in 2007 of “incitement against Arabs” after calling for the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel, will become national security minister with increased authority over the police, including in the occupied territories.
Palestinians now fear this will mean what they would see as even tougher policies against them and also fear the status quo of Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem.
Speaking on Wednesday, King Abdullah of Jordan warned Israel not to cross any “red lines” in Jerusalem.
“If people want to come into conflict with us, we’re totally ready,” he said in an interview with CNN.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday that the motto of the new Israeli government was “extremism and apartheid”.
However, Benny Gantz, Israel’s outgoing defense minister, told Abbas in a phone call on Wednesday that it was “essential to maintain an open channel of communication and coordination” between the PA and the Israeli government.