Netanyahu gets 6th term as his hard-line new government assumes office in Israel

The most religious and hard-line government in Israel’s history has been sworn in.

Benjamin Netanyahu returns as prime minister, after his Likud party formed a coalition with ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies.

There is domestic and international concern it will inflame the conflict with the Palestinians, damage the judiciary and restrict minority rights.

Mr Netanyahu has promised to pursue peace and safeguard civil rights.

Addressing a special session of the Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem before taking office, he stated that his administration would “restore governance, peace and personal security to the citizens of Israel”.

“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.”This is a record sixth term as prime minister for Mr Netanyahu, who was ousted by his opponents 18 months ago, but his coalition partners are pledging to lead the country in a new direction.

The first guiding principle of the new government, published on Wednesday, declares that “the Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the land of Israel”. It says that includes the occupied West Bank and promises to “advance and develop” settlements there.

Far-right politicians Itamar Ben-Gvir (L) Bezalel Smotrich (R) will hold key positions in the new government

About 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

There are also some 100 outposts – small settlements built without the Israeli government’s authorisation – across the West Bank.

In a coalition deal with the ultranationalist Religious Zionism party he signed last week, Mr Netanyahu agreed to retroactively legalise the outposts. He also promised to annex the West Bank while “choosing the timing and weighing all of the State of Israel’s national and international interests”. Such a step would be opposed by Israel’s Western and Arab allies.

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, a West Bank settler, will be finance minister and also oversee the Civil Administration, which approves settlement building in the West Bank and controls important aspects of Palestinians’ lives.

Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, another settler and ultranationalist politician who has previously been convicted of racism and supporting a terrorist organisation, will be national security minister, responsible for the police.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned on Thursday that the plans to develop West Bank settlements “constitute a dangerous escalation and will have repercussions for the region”.

Mr Netanyahu’s coalition partners reject the idea of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict – the internationally backed formula for peace which envisages an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank alongside Israel, with Jerusalem as their shared capital.

There have also been expressions of concern both inside and outside Israel about the very rigid views on the application of Jewish law.

Critics have also expressed concern at the new government’s declared intention to alter the checks and balances of power, giving a parliamentary majority the ability to override Supreme Court rulings.

Mr Netanyahu’s coalition partners have also proposed legal reforms that could end his ongoing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing.

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