Benjamin Netanyahu completed a dramatic return as Israel’s prime minister on Thursday, after being sworn in as the leader of what is likely to be the most right-wing government in the country’s history.
Netanyahu and his government were sworn in on Thursday for their sixth term as prime minister, 18 months after being ousted from power.
He is back with the support of several far-right figures once resigned to the fringes of Israeli politics, after forming a coalition shortly before last week’s deadline.
Members of Netanyahu’s Likud party will hold some of the most important cabinet posts, including foreign minister, defense minister and justice minister.
But a number of politicians from the far right of Israel’s political spectrum were to be appointed to ministerial posts, despite controversy over their positions in the run-up to the November election, which was won by a bloc of ultra-nationalists and ultra-nationalists led by Netanyahu. ultra-religious parties.
Itamar Ben Gvir, an extremist who has been convicted of supporting terrorism and inciting anti-Arab racism, will take on a newly expanded public security role, renamed minister of national security, overseeing police in Israel and some police activities in the occupied West Bank .
Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist party, has been appointed Minister of Finance, and has also been given the power to appoint the head of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), an Israeli military unit which, among the his functions, he is in charge of the border. …crossings and permits for Palestinians.
During his campaign, Smotrich had proposed a series of drastic legal reforms, seen by many critics as a clear way to undermine judicial independence. That includes dropping the ability to indict a public official for fraud and breach of trust, a charge Netanyahu faces in his ongoing corruption trial.
Netanyahu has pleaded not guilty, calling the trial a “witch hunt” and an “attempted coup,” and has called for changes to Israel’s judicial system.
Aryeh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Shas party, will serve as interior minister and health minister.
As new ministers prepared to be sworn in at the Knesset, the country’s parliament, about 2,000 demonstrators gathered outside to protest Netanyahu’s return to office, a Jerusalem police spokesman said.
The Israeli government’s rightward shift has raised eyebrows abroad and at home. On Wednesday, more than 100 retired Israeli ambassadors and foreign ministry officials expressed concerns about Israel’s incoming government in a letter signed to Netanyahu.
The former diplomats, including former ambassadors to France, India and Turkey, expressed “deep concern over the serious damage to Israel’s foreign relations, its international standing and its core interests abroad emanating from what apparently it will be the policy of the incoming government.”
The letter noted “statements made by possible senior government and Knesset officials,” reports of policy changes in the West Bank, and “some possible extreme and discriminatory laws” as cause for concern.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides congratulated Netanyahu on Thursday, writing on Twitter: “Here’s to the strong US-Israel relationship and unbreakable ties.” Nides is married to Virginia Mosely, executive vice president of editorial at CNN USA.
Biden administration officials have largely avoided addressing the far-right components of the new Israeli government. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that the US would “engage and judge our partners in Israel on the basis of the policies they pursue, not the personalities who form the government.”
Netanyahu’s narrow victory in November came in Israel’s fifth election in less than four years, amid a period of prolonged political chaos during which he has remained a dominant figure.
In his speech to the Knesset on Thursday, Netanyahu said that of the three main tasks assigned to his government, the first would be to “frustrate Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons.” The second priority would be to develop the country’s infrastructure, including launching a bullet train, and the third would be to sign more peace agreements with Arab nations “in order to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Netanyahu was already Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, having previously held the post from 2009 to 2021 and before that for a term in the late 1990s.
Israel also had its first openly gay parliament speaker on Thursday. Amir Ohana, former minister of justice and public security, is a member of the Knesset representing Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Some ultra-Orthodox lawmakers who had refused to attend his Knesset swearing-in seven years ago were among those who voted for him on Thursday.
Ahead of the parliamentary vote on the new government, outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid tweeted: “We are handing you a state in excellent condition. Try not to screw it up, we’ll be right back. The handover files are ready.”
With additional reports from Kareem El Damanhoury