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Netanyahu Bounces Back as Israeli Prime Minister

posted onDecember 29, 2022

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swore in Israel’s 37th government on Thursday, promising that his right-religious coalition will deliver political stability after five bumpy back-to-back elections since 2019.

Confidence in the government was confirmed by 63 of the 64 coalition members, constituting a relatively solid and cohesive majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

With a total of 15 years in two stints in the country’s top seat — he is now beginning his third — Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. This will be his sixth government, and by allying far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties to his right-wing Likud, it will be his and the country’s most hardline to date.

According to coalition agreements signed between Likud and each of its five partner parties, as well as its published guiding principles, the incoming government will prioritize comprehensive judicial reform, including a commitment to pass a High Court override law designed to reduce judicial checks on executive and legislative power, expand settlement and consider West Bank annexation policy, combat the cost of living, and further centralize ultra-Orthodox control over state Jewish services.

Speaking to the Knesset plenum before the vote of confidence, Netanyahu presented three top priorities for his new government: stopping Iran’s nuclear program, developing state infrastructure — with an emphasis on connecting the so-called periphery to the center of the country — and restoring internal security and governance.

Many ministries have been split or repackaged. Others are scheduled for ministerial rotation, had pieces cleaved off or appended, or have more than one minister. Only five of the 31 ministers are women, and one, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Galit Distal Atbaryan, has yet to have a clear role delineated. Another, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, was appointed in the hours between when Netanyahu presented his government to the Knesset and the swearing-in.

Cabinet posts are among the key resources allocated by would-be prime ministers in their quest to cobble together parties into a coalition, along with budgets and policy points. Netanyahu has been criticized within his own party for making far-reaching concessions to allied parties.

One of those allied parties is the far-right Religious Zionism, which has pushed for settlement expansion, reform that would subjugate the judiciary to the Knesset, and the bolstering of Orthodox Judaism.

Party leader Bezalel Smotrich — who in addition to once describing himself as a “proud homophobe” and advocating for Arab-Jewish segregated maternity wards, was arrested by the Shin Bet in 2005 on suspicion of a planning a violent pro-settlement demonstration — will be an independent minister in the Defense Ministry overseeing Jewish and Palestinian construction the West Bank’s Area C.

Home to about 500,000 Jewish settlers and 300,000 Palestinians, Area C is the only part of the West Bank in which Jews live, and it is under Israeli civil and military control.

Other members of his party will receive appointments touching on settlements, Israel’s Jewish character and Diaspora relations, namely the newly formed National Missions Ministry and the Aliyah and Absorption Ministry. Smotrich will also start the term in the Finance Ministry, and is slated to rotate into a different ministry midterm.

Other policy goals secured by Religious Zionism include a declarative, if somewhat vague, commitment to annexing the West Bank to Israel, legalization of dozens of unauthorized settlement outposts, and the provision of large funds for road building and public transportation in the West Bank.

The party also obtained commitments to restrict immigration under the Law of Return, delegitimize non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism, and change discrimination laws to allow goods and service providers to refuse service based on religious belief.

Source: Times of Israel 

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