Forming a government in Israel: Netanyahu’s arduous journey

Aeverything should go fast than Benjamin Netanyahu was tasked by President Izchak Herzog on November 13 to form the next Israeli government. In just a few days, the leader of the right-wing camp would have formed a coalition, according to the Israeli media, citing Netanyahu’s Likud. It was clear with whom: the five parties from the ultra-right and ultra-Orthodox spectrum and the Likud won 64 of the 120 Knesset seats in the parliamentary elections at the beginning of November. Nothing seemed to stand in the way of the long-serving prime minister’s return to the post of head of government after a year-and-a-half break.

Christian Meier

Political correspondent for the Middle East and Northeast Africa.

Now the four weeks that Netanyahu has are almost over: his mandate expires at midnight on Saturday. On Friday, Netanyahu asked for an extension. Up to two additional weeks duke grant him. The coalition negotiations have proven to be extremely difficult, and the future partners have been stubborn and self-confident. Netanyahu had to make concessions in terms of the allocation of ministerial posts and content. This process now appears to be largely complete. The last agreement was announced on Thursday morning: with the Shas party, which mainly represents Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Jews. However, there is still no coalition agreement between all parties, only individual agreements.

Ben-Gvir becomes “Minister of National Security”

The picture that emerges from these is alarming from the point of view of the voted-out centre-left camp. On the one hand, this applies to the occupation of the police and military. On the other hand, it is about inner-Israeli and inner-Jewish conflict issues. The provocateur Itamar Ben-Gvir from the party “Jewish Strength” received his dream job and became “Minister for National Security”. That a convicted politician, who was once not drafted because of his radical views, should be in charge of the al-Aqsa plateau in Jerusalem and the border police in the West Bank strikes critics as lighting a powder keg.

Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party, on the other hand, failed in his demand to keep the Defense Ministry. Smotrich is now to become finance minister for two years. In an interview with an ultra-Orthodox media outlet published on Thursday, the 42-year-old politician gave insights into his fiscal policy vision: “If we follow the Torah, we will be showered with financial wealth and richly blessed. That is my economic approach.” Smotrich, who lives in a settlement outpost in the West Bank that is illegal even from an Israeli point of view, is also to be given oversight of the civil administration in the Palestinian territory, and thus be able to play a key role in determining settlement policy.

A general characteristic of the emerging government is that many departmental responsibilities are being redistributed in order to satisfy the wishes of partners. Another feature is the open display of hostility by several leaders toward non-Orthodox branches of Judaism and non-traditional ways of life. This is especially true of Avi Maoz, the leader and sole MP of the homophobic Jewish party Noam.

Radical positions will be represented

Netanyahu himself had insisted that the smallest party join the electoral alliance of “Religious Zionism” and “Jewish Strength” in order to secure as many votes as possible for the right-wing camp. The reward is that Maoz is to become deputy minister in charge of “Jewish national identity.” According to media reports, the 66-year-old politician represents numerous radical positions: He rejects the designation of the State of Israel as “democratic”, is against women in the army and supports so-called conversion therapies for homosexuals.

The fact that Maoz should be responsible for the extracurricular education programs for students has triggered vehement resistance. More than 170 mayors said they would oppose the scrapping of programs that promote diversity, equality and tolerance. Prime Minister Jair Lapid supported them in this.

This earned him sharp accusations from Netanyahu: Lapid was trying to incite “rebellion”. At the same time, Netanyahu felt compelled to distance himself from some of Maoz’s demands, for example after the abolition of “Gay Pride” in Jerusalem, which he called a “promiscuous parade of abomination”. In an interview, Netanyahu assured that gay rights in Israel will remain in place. Meanwhile, Maoz announced in the Knesset: Anyone trying to create a “so-called liberal religion” or try to “brainwash” children is an agent of “darkness”.

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