Israel swears by Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister of an uncompromising government

JERUSALEM– Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn into office on Thursday, taking the helm of the most right-wing and religiously conservative government in Israel’s history and vowing to implement policies that could cause domestic and regional unrest and alienate the country’s closest allies.

Netanyahu took the oath of office shortly after parliament voted confidence in his new government. His return marks his sixth term in office and continues his more than decade-long dominance of Israeli politics.

His new government has promised to prioritize settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, provide massive subsidies to its ultra-Orthodox allies and push for sweeping reform of the judicial system that could jeopardize the country’s democratic institutions.

Netanyahu is the country’s longest-serving prime minister, holding office from 2009 to 2021 and serving one term in the 1990s. He was forced out of office last year after four stalled elections by an eight-party coalition united solely in opposing his rule while he was on trial for corruption.

That coalition broke up in June, and Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox allies secured a parliamentary majority in November’s elections.

“I hear the opposition’s constant cries about the end of the country and of democracy,” Netanyahu said after taking the podium ahead of the government’s formal swearing-in ceremony in parliament on Thursday afternoon. His speech was repeatedly interrupted by heckling and jeers from the opposition leadership, who at times chanted “weakly”.

“Oppositionists: Losing an election is not the end of democracy, that is the essence of democracy,” he said.

Netanyahu leads a government composed of a hardline religious, ultra-nationalist party dominated by West Bank settlers, two ultra-Orthodox parties and his nationalist Likud party.

Its allies are pushing for dramatic changes that could alienate large sections of the Israeli public, increase the risk of conflict with the Palestinians, and put Israel on a collision course with some of its closest supporters, including the United States and the Jewish-American community.

Netanyahu’s government released its platform declaring that “the Jewish people have exclusive and unquestionable rights” over all of Israel and the Palestinian territories and will push ahead with settlement building in the occupied West Bank. This includes the legalization of dozens of rogue outposts and a commitment to annex all territory, a move that would provoke fierce international opposition, shattering any remaining hopes for a Palestinian state and cries that Israel is an apartheid state if millions of Palestinians not granted additional food would give citizenship.

Netanyahu’s previous administrations have been strong supporters of the Israeli West Bank settlement enterprise, and it is expected to only rev up into high gear under the new government.

Israel conquered the West Bank in 1967 along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem – areas the Palestinians aspire to as a future state. Israel has established dozens of Jewish settlements, home to about 500,000 Israelis who live alongside about 2.5 million Palestinians.

Most of the international community views Israel’s West Bank settlements as illegal and as an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. The United States has already warned the new administration not to take any steps that could further undermine hopes for an independent Palestinian state.

The new government has also raised concerns about violations of minority and LGBTQ rights.

In front of the parliament, several thousand demonstrators waved the Israel and Pride flags and chanted: “We don’t want fascists in the Knesset”. Another protest was expected in Tel Aviv later in the day.

Earlier this week, two members of the Religious Zionism party said they would push an amendment to the country’s anti-discrimination law that would allow companies and doctors to discriminate against the LGBTQ community based on their religious beliefs.

These comments, along with the ruling coalition’s broadly anti-LGBTQ stance, have sparked fears in the LGBTQ community that the new Netanyahu government would roll back its restricted rights. Netanyahu has tried to allay these concerns by promising not to violate LGBTQ rights.

Yair Lapid, the outgoing prime minister who will now resume the title of opposition leader, told parliament he was handing over to the new government “a country in excellent condition, with a strong economy, with improved defense capabilities and strong deterrence, with one of the best international All-time ranking.”

“Try not to destroy it. We’ll be back soon,” Lapid said.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Israel swears by Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister of an uncompromising government

Laura Coffey

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