On Thursday, Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as Prime Minister of Israel during a special session of the Knesset in Jerusalem. His coalition government has been described as the most religious and hardline government in Israeli history.
Netanyahu’s Likud party formed a coalition with ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies to make his return to power possible.
Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. However, in 2021, he was ejected from office amid a corruption scandal. Eight parties united together in their goal to remove him from power, but their coalition collapsed in June 2022.
Netanyahu’s controversial return to power
During his inauguration speech at the Knesset, Netanyahu said that his government would “restore governance, peace and personal security to the citizens of Israel.”
The Israeli Prime Minister also tried to address concerns raised by his leadership, saying “I hear the opposition’s constant laments about ‘the end of the state,’ ‘the end of democracy,’ members of the opposition, losing the elections is not the end of democracy—this is the essence of democracy.”
Some members of the Knesset heckled Netanyahu, chanting “weak.” At the same time, several hundred protestors gathered outside the parliament building, bearing Israeli flags, Pride banners, and placards reading “shame,” “danger,” and “down with racism.”
Joining Netanyahu in power will be several other controversial figures. Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the ultranationalist Religious Zionist Party, known as Tkuma, will be the finance minister and oversee the Israeli Civil Administration.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, will be the national security minister in charge of the police. Ben-Gvir also has ultranationalist leanings and has previously been convicted of racism and supporting a terrorist organization.
The West Bank
Netanyahu’s political victory is controversial for several reasons. The gravest concern, however, is that his government’s policies will enflame tensions between the Israeli and Palestinian communities, particularly over the issue of the West Bank.
On Wednesday, the government published a document outlining its priorities. The first guiding principle was that “the Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the land of Israel.”
The document says that this “unquestionable right” extends to the occupied West Bank and highlights plans to “advance and develop” settlements there. Approximately 140 such settlements already exist across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with a Jewish population of about six hundred thousand.
Most of the international community deems these settlements to be illegal under international law. This is disputed by Israel, however. Both the West Bank and East Jerusalem are claimed by the State of Palestine as its sovereign territory. Further encroachment into this space by Netanyahu’s government threatens to reignite violent conflict.
Some of the Jewish-settled areas in the West Bank have not been legally recognized by the Israeli government. There are about one hundred of these outposts. Nonetheless, Netanyahu has agreed with one of this coalition partners, the Religious Zionist Party, to retrospectively recognize them.
US President Joe Biden congratulated Netanyahu. “I look forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has been my friend for decades, to jointly address the many challenges and opportunities facing Israel and the Middle East region, including threats from Iran,” Biden said in an official statement.
However, the US government is reportedly worried that Netanyahu’s government will introduce policies to undermine Israeli democracy or enflame tensions with Palestinians. National security adviser Jake Sullivan will be sent to Israeli in mid-January for discussions with the Israeli Prime Minister.
Netanyahu also received congratulations from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose countries are currently embroiled in a bitter war with one another.
“I hope that the new government under your leadership will continue the line of strengthening Russian-Israeli cooperation in all areas for the benefit of our peoples, in the interest of ensuring peace and security in the Middle East,” Putin said in a Kremlin-issued statement. “In Russia, we greatly appreciate your personal and long-standing contribution to strengthening friendly relations between our countries.”
Zelensky expressed similar sentiments, saying on Twitter, “I wish success on the way to the welfare and security of Israel. I confirm Ukraine’s readiness for close cooperation to strengthen our ties and confront common challenges, achieve prosperity and victory over evil.”
In recent years, Israel and Russia have enjoyed close ties under Netanyahu’s leadership, particularly in the realm of security. However, Netanyahu has been careful to somewhat distance himself from Putin since the invasion of Ukraine in February. Israel has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
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