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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Israel’s Netanyahu returns with new government and agenda, amid protest

Benjamin Netanyahu is to be sworn in as Israel’s prime minister, marking a personal return to power for the man already the country’s longest-serving prime minister and the arrival of a new far-right government that has raised concerns among Palestinians and the left. the wing of the Israelites.

Netanyahu, 73, who was prime minister from 1996 to 1999 and then from 2009 to 2021, addressed a session of Israel’s parliament, or Knesset, on Thursday ahead of a vote of confidence in the new government.

If it passes — and Netanyahu and his coalition partners have a majority in the Knesset — a swearing-in ceremony for Netanyahu and his ministers will follow.

Netanyahu was heckled during his speech in the Knesset, with opponents chanting that he was “weak”.

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He said his top priority would be ending the “Arab-Israeli conflict,” as well as halting Iran’s nuclear program and building up Israel’s military capacity.

“The formation of this government is very different from any other government before. It’s the most ultra-Orthodox, ultra-Jewish, ultra-nationalist coalition,” Al Jazeera’s Sara Khairat said outside parliament in West Jerusalem, where left-wing Israelis gathered to protest.

But, Khairat added, Netanyahu remained focused on sending domestic messages to Israelis.

“[Netanyahu] is promising to lower prices and help Israelis who are facing tough economic times,” she said.

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Netanyahu’s victory in the Nov. 1 parliamentary election was expected to end years of political turmoil in Israel, which has seen governments fall repeatedly and elections held five times in less than four years.

Much of this was the result of intense political opposition to Netanyahu himself, who is on trial for corruption, which he denies.

But it took weeks of pushing and rolling in new legislation to satisfy his far-right and ultra-nationalist coalition partners, as well as his own Likud party.

The result was a coalition that explicitly made settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, illegal under international law, its top priority.

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This reflects the positions of far-right leaders who have been given top posts, such as Religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich and Jewish Power leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, who previously expressed support for Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish Israeli who killed 29 Palestinians. shooting at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in 1994.

Israel is moving in a “very dangerous direction”, left-wing Knesset member Ofer Cassif told Al Jazeera from a protest outside parliament, adding that the arrival of a new government would mark Israel as a “full-fledged fascist state”.

“The international community must be aware of this and act accordingly,” Cassif added.

The formation of the new government is likely to further strain relations with the millions of Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation.

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Palestinians have already faced their deadliest year since 2006, according to the United Nations, after Israel’s outgoing centrist government launched a brief conflict in Gaza in August, as well as near-daily airstrikes in the West Bank that led to dozens of killings and arrests. .

Liberal Israelis have also expressed reservations about the new government, particularly its stance on LGBTQ rights and the prominent positions held by ultra-conservative religious figures.

Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, who occupies a largely ceremonial role, has himself warned of the potential damage the new Israeli government could cause and has previously been caught on a hot microphone saying that “the whole world” is worried about figures like Ben-Gvir enters the government.

An attempt at reassurance

Netanyahu, who is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has sought to allay some of these concerns.

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“We will establish a stable, full-term government that will take care of all Israeli citizens,” he said on Wednesday after his supporters in the Knesset pushed through legislation that would pave the way for his government to take office.

One bill that allows a suspended minister to take office was specifically designed to allow the head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party Aryeh Deri to become a minister.

However, much of the attention and fear of the new government’s opponents—both Israeli and Palestinian—has focused on Smotrich and Ben-Gvir.

They are part of the broader Israeli ideological movement of religious Zionism. The individual men’s parties ran on a joint ticket in the November election to ensure they passed the electoral threshold before splitting again.

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Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, who both live in illegal settlements in the West Bank, will occupy senior positions in the new government – Smotrich will be finance minister and will also have authority over the settlements, while Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of “inciting against the Arabs” after calling for the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel, will become minister of national security with increased powers over the police, including in the occupied territories.

The Palestinians now fear that this will mean what they see as an even tougher policy towards them, and they also fear the status quo of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem.

In a speech on Wednesday, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned Israel not to cross any “red lines” in Jerusalem.

“If people want to come into conflict with us, we’re quite ready,” he said in an interview with CNN.

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Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday that the slogan of the new Israeli government is “extremism and apartheid”.

But Benny Gantz, Israel’s outgoing defense minister, told Abbas in a phone call Wednesday that it was “critical to keep the channel of communication and coordination open” between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.

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