Benjamin Netanyahu took office on Thursday, taking the helm of the most right-wing and religiously conservative government in Israel’s history and vowing to enact policies that could cause national and regional unrest and alienate the country’s closest allies.
Netanyahu was sworn in moments after parliament passed a vote of confidence in his new government. His return marks his sixth term in office, continuing his dominance of more than a decade over Israeli politics.
His new government has vowed to prioritize settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, extend massive subsidies to its ultra-Orthodox allies and push through sweeping reform of the judicial system that could jeopardize the country’s democratic institutions. The plans have caused an unprecedented uproar throughout Israeli society, including the military, LGBTQ rights groups, the business community and others.
Netanyahu is the country’s longest-serving prime minister, having held office from 2009 to 2021 and a stint in the 1990s. He was ousted from office last year after four deadlocked elections by a coalition of eight parties united solely in their opposition to his government.
Despite his political comeback, he remains on trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust and taking bribes in three corruption cases. He denies all charges against him and says he is the victim of a witch hunt orchestrated by hostile media, police and prosecutors.
The diverse but fragile coalition that ousted Netanyahu collapsed in June, with Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox allies winning a clear parliamentary majority in November elections.
“I hear the constant cries of the opposition about the end of the country and democracy,” Netanyahu said after taking the podium in parliament ahead of the government’s formal swearing-in on Thursday afternoon. His speech was repeatedly interrupted by jeers and jeers from opposition leaders, who at times shouted “weak.”
“Members of the opposition: losing in the elections is not the end of democracy, this is the essence of democracy,” he said.
Netanyahu heads a government made up of a hardline ultranationalist religious party dominated by settlers from the West Bank, two ultra-Orthodox parties and his nationalist Likud party.
His allies are pushing for dramatic changes that could alienate large sections of the Israeli public, deepen the conflict with the Palestinians and put Israel on a collision course with some of its closest supporters, including the United States and the American Jewish community.
The Netanyahu government’s platform says that “the Jewish people have exclusive and indisputable rights” to all of Israel and the Palestinian territories and promises to advance settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.
That includes legalizing dozens of wild outposts and pledging to annex all of the territory, a move that would draw strong international opposition by destroying any remaining hope for a Palestinian state and adding fuel to calls for Israel to be a state of war. apartheid if it is not granted to millions of Palestinians. citizenship.
Previous Netanyahu administrations have been staunch supporters of Israel’s settlement venture in the West Bank, and that is expected to accelerate under the new government.
Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories the Palestinians seek for a future state. Israel has built dozens of Jewish settlements that house some 500,000 Israelis living alongside some 2.5 million Palestinians.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered by most of the international community to be illegal and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. The United States has already warned the incoming government against taking steps that could further undermine hopes for an independent Palestinian state.
The White House National Security Council said Thursday that it does not “support policies that jeopardize the viability of a two-state solution or that contradict our mutual interests and values.”
“We support policies that promote Israel’s security and regional integration, support a two-state solution, and lead to equal measures of security, prosperity, and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians,” he added.
Israel’s new government has also expressed concern about the rollback of LGBTQ and minority rights. Outside parliament, several thousand protesters waved Israeli Pride and rainbow flags. “We don’t want fascists in the Knesset!” They sang
Earlier this week, two members of the Religious Zionism party said they would promote an amendment to the country’s anti-discrimination law that would allow companies and doctors to discriminate against the LGBTQ community on the basis of religious faith.
Those comments, along with the ruling coalition’s broadly anti-LGBTQ stance, have raised fears that the new administration will jeopardize their limited rights. Netanyahu has tried to allay those concerns by vowing not to harm LGBTQ rights.
Yair Lapid, the outgoing prime minister who will now re-assume the title of opposition leader, told parliament he was handing over to the new government “a country in excellent condition, with a strong economy, with improved defensive capabilities and strong deterrence, with one of the best international rankings in history”.
“Try not to destroy it. We’ll be back soon,” Lapid said.