Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday returned to power for an unprecedented sixth term as Israel’s prime minister, taking the helm of the most religiously conservative and right-wing government in the country’s 74-year history.
The swearing-in ceremony marked the remarkable return of Mr. Netanyahu, who was ousted last year after 12 consecutive years in power. But he faces a myriad of challenges, leading a coalition of religious and far-right parties that could sow domestic and regional instability and alienate Israel’s closest allies.
His new government has pledged to prioritize settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, extend massive subsidies to his ultra-Orthodox allies, and push for far-reaching reforms to the justice system that the Critics say it could jeopardize the country’s democratic institutions. The plans have caused an uproar in Israeli society, drawing criticism from the military, LGBTQ rights groups, the business community and others, and causing concern abroad.
In a heated parliamentary session before being sworn in, the bellicose Netanyahu took aim at his critics, accusing the opposition of trying to intimidate the public.
“I hear the opposition’s constant cries for the end of the country and democracy,” Netanyahu said from the podium. “Opposition members: losing the election is not the end of democracy, this is the essence of democracy.”
His speech was constantly interrupted by boos and taunts from opponents, who chanted “weak, weak” – a clear reference to the many concessions he had made to his counterparts. his new rulership.
Netanyahu then held a briefing with his new Cabinet, saying that his priorities would include stopping Iran’s nuclear program, strengthening law and order, countering the cost. high living standards of the country and expanding Israel’s growing relations with the Arab world.
“I am touched by the immense trust the people of Israel have in us,” he told the ministers, adding that he was pleased to work with the “excellent team” that he gathered. “Let’s get to work together.”
longest serving prime minister
Netanyahu is the country’s longest-serving prime minister, having held office for a total of 15 years, including time in the 1990s. After four inconclusive elections, he was ousted in 2012. last year by a coalition of eight ideologically diverse parties united by their opposition to his rule.
That coalition collapsed in June, and Mr. Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox allies won a clear majority in parliament in the November elections.
The country remains deeply divided over Mr. Netanyahu, who is still on trial on charges of fraud, infidelity and accepting bribes in three corruption cases. He denied all charges, saying he was the victim of a witch hunt orchestrated by a hostile media, police and prosecutors.
Mr. Netanyahu now heads a government that includes a hardline religious extremist party dominated by West Bank settlers, two ultra-Orthodox parties and his nationalist Likud party. They endorsed a series of coalition guidelines and agreements that go far beyond the goals he outlined on Thursday and, some say, risk jeopardizing Israel’s democratic institutions and deepen the conflict with the Palestinians.
Long a hardline on the Palestinians, Mr. Netanyahu has been a strong supporter of Israeli West Bank settlements. That is only expected to be stepped up under the new government. Netanyahu created a special ministerial position that gives a firebrand settler leader broad powers over settlement policies. The alliance’s platform states that “the Jews have exclusive and indisputable rights” to the entire territory of Israel and Palestine, and promises a top priority for settlement expansion.
That includes legitimizing dozens of wild outposts and pledging to annex entire territories, a move that could quell any lingering hopes of Palestinian statehood and garner opposition. international agitation.
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, which are home to some 500,000 Israelis living with about 2.5 million Palestinians.
Alarms abroad and at home
Most of the international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. The United States has warned the incoming government not to take steps that could further undermine hopes of an independent Palestinian state.
US President Joe Biden on Thursday called Mr Netanyahu a “friend of many decades” and said he looked forward to working with him “to jointly address the many challenges and opportunities that Israel and the Middle East region face.” East faces, including threats from Iran.”
However, Biden warned, the United States will “continue to support the two-state solution and oppose policies that jeopardize its viability or contradict our shared interests and values. “
At home, the new government has alarmed good governance groups with its plans to overhaul the legal system — including a proposal to limit the power of the independent judiciary by allowing parliament to repeal laws. judgment of the Supreme Court. Critics say this would destroy the country’s checks and balances system and pave the way for the dismissal of Netanyahu’s criminal trial.
There are also concerns about revoking minority and LGBTQ rights. Members of the religious Zionist party said they would push for an amendment to the country’s anti-discrimination law to allow businesses and doctors to discriminate against the LGBTQ community on the basis of faith. religion.
Outside parliament, thousands of protesters waved Israeli flags and rainbow gay pride flags. “We don’t want fascists in the Knesset!” they chanted. Crowds of LGBTQ supporters shouted “What a shame!” block the entrance to a major intersection and highway in Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu has promised that he will defend minorities and LGBTQ rights. Amir Ohana, a Netanyahu loyalist, was voted the first openly gay parliamentary speaker on Thursday as his partner and their two children watched from the audience.
On stage, Ohana turned to them and promised the new government to respect everyone. “This Knesset, under the leadership of this speaker, is not going to hurt them or any children or any other family,” he said.
LGBTQ groups welcome Ohana’s appointment, but fear the new government is using his appointment as a front to reverse the gains the community has made in recent years.
Yair Lapid, the outgoing prime minister who currently serves as leader of the opposition, told parliament he was giving the new government “a country in excellent condition, with a strong economy, with the ability to improved defense and strong deterrence, with one of the best international rankings ever.”
“Try not to destroy it. We’ll be back soon,” Lapid said.