Jerusalem – Benjamin Netanyahu will return to office on Thursday, leading the most religious and ultra-nationalist government in Israel’s history, vowing to implement policies that could cause domestic and regional instability and alienate the country’s closest allies.
Netanyahu’s new government has pledged to prioritize settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, flood subsidies to his ultra-Orthodox allies and push for sweeping reforms of the judicial system that could jeopardize the country’s democracy.
Netanyahu is the country’s longest-serving prime minister, serving from 2009 to 2021 and serving in the 1990s. He was removed from office last year after four deadlocked elections in an eight-party coalition.
The coalition fell apart in June, and Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox allies secured a parliamentary majority in November’s elections.
“I hear the opposition constantly complaining about the end of the country and democracy,” Netanyahu said after taking the parliamentary rostrum ahead of the government’s official swearing-in on Thursday afternoon. His speech was repeatedly interrupted by hecklers and jeers from the leadership , they sometimes shout “weakness”.
“Members of Opposition: Losing an election is not the end of democracy, it’s the essence of democracy,” he said.
Netanyahu’s government is made up of a hardline religious ultra-nationalist party dominated by West Bank settlers, two ultra-Orthodox parties and his nationalist Likud party.
His allies are pushing for dramatic changes that could alienate large swaths of the Israeli public, increase the risk of conflict with Palestinians and bring Israel into conflict with some of its closest supporters, including the United States and the American Jewish community.
The Netanyahu government issued a political platform stating that “the Jewish people have indisputable and exclusive rights to the entire territory of Israel and the Palestinian territories” and will promote the construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank. That included legalizing dozens of Wildcat outposts and promising to annex the entire territory, a step that would draw an international backlash by destroying any remaining hope of Palestinian statehood and fuel calls for Israel to be an apartheid state , if millions of Palestinians are not allowed citizenship.
Netanyahu’s previous government had been a staunch supporter of Israel’s West Bank settlement project, which is only expected to be accelerated under the new administration.
Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem – territories where Palestinians seek to create a future state. Israel has built dozens of Jewish settlements, home to some 500,000 Israelis who live with some 2.5 million Palestinians.
Most of the international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. The United States has warned the incoming government against steps that could further undermine hopes for an independent Palestinian state.
The new government has also raised concerns about violations of minority and LGBTQ rights.
Outside the Knesset, thousands of demonstrators waved Israeli and Pride flags and chanted “We don’t want fascists in the Knesset”. Another protest is expected later in the day in Tel Aviv.
Earlier this week, two members of the Religious Zionist Party said they would move forward with an amendment to the country’s anti-discrimination law that would allow businesses and doctors to discriminate against the LGBTQ community based on their religious beliefs.
Those remarks, combined with the ruling coalition’s broad anti-LGBTQ stance, have raised concerns among the LGBTQ community that the new Netanyahu government will roll back their limited rights. Netanyahu has sought to allay these concerns by promising not to compromise LGBTQ rights.
Outgoing Prime Minister Yar Rapide, who will now return as leader of the Opposition, told parliament he was handing over to the new government “a country in good shape, with a strong economy, enhanced defenses and deterrence, one of the best ever international ranking.”
“Try not to spoil it. We’ll be back soon,” Rapide said.
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