As Israel’s Netanyahu returns to office, problems lie ahead

JERUSALEM (AP) — After five elections that crippled Israeli politics for nearly four years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has finally returned to power with the government he has long coveted: a parliamentary majority of religious and extreme lawmakers. right-wingers who share his hard-diverging opinions toward the Palestinians and hostility toward Israel’s legal system.

Still, Netanyahu’s joy may be short-lived. Putting together his coalition proved surprisingly complicated, requiring nearly two months of painstaking negotiations and a series of legal maneuvers just to get his partners into office. Among them: newly created ministerial posts with extended authority over security and a law allowing a politician on probation for a criminal conviction to be a government minister.

Along the way, he was forced to make generous concessions to his allies, including pledges to expand settlements in the West Bank, proposals to allow discrimination against LGBTQ people, and increased subsidies for ultra-male Orthodox study instead of working.

If implemented, these plans will alienate much of the Israeli public, increase the risk of conflict with the Palestinians, upset Israel’s powerful security system and put Israel on a collision course with some of its closest allies, including the US government and American Jewry. Even members of Netanyahu’s Likud party are grumbling.

Netanyahu has sought to play down concerns, saying he will set a policy — little comfort to his many critics who have bristled at his hardline policy towards the Palestinians. His ultra-nationalist partners will also have a big influence on him as they have promised to promote legislation that could overturn the criminal charges against him. They are sure to test its limits.

Here is an overview of some of the challenges facing the new government:


The Biden administration has expressed unease with the new government’s more extreme politicians, but said it will judge him by policies, not personalities. Early indications do not bode well. A day before taking office, Netanyahu’s government declared that expanding settlements in the West Bank would be a top priority. He wants to legalize dozens of savage outposts and says he plans to annex the occupied territory at some undetermined time. The United States opposes the colonies as obstacles to peace. He also views measures that marginalize Palestinians, LGBTQ people and other minority groups as harmful. Netanyahu is committed to protecting minority rights. But if his coalition progresses, there could be a crisis in relations with Israel’s closest ally. Leaders of American Jewry have also expressed concern over the incoming government and its members’ hostility to liberal streams of popular Judaism in the United States. Given the predominantly liberal political views of American Jews, such apprehensions could have a ripple effect in Washington and widen partisan division over support for Israel.



Many Palestinians greeted the election of the new government with a shrug. With peace talks already suspended for more than a decade, some do not see how any government can make matters worse. But that sense of resignation could turn to anger if the new government steps up settlement activity or annexes the West Bank, the heart of their hoped-for state. The fighting in the West Bank, already at its highest level in years, could intensify. And if Netanyahu’s allies test the tense status quo in East Jerusalem – home to the city’s most important and sensitive holy site – violence could spread across Israel and into the Gaza Strip, as it has been. the case in 2021. Hamas leaders in Gaza have already warned of an “open confrontation” next year.



The military, along with the Israeli police and a myriad of security agencies, enjoy influence and respect in Israeli society. Netanyahu has always worked well with his security chiefs. But a pair of dates raised questions about that relationship. Netanyahu placed a far-right provocateur who was previously convicted of inciting and supporting a Jewish terror group as head of the country’s police force. It also passed a law giving an incendiary West Bank settler responsibility for settlement policy, including the power to appoint a senior general responsible for policies toward the Palestinians. The impending changes prompted the outgoing IDF chief to contact Netanyahu and voice his concerns. The military said the men had agreed there would be no change in policy until the military presented its views. « The military must be kept out of political discourse, » he said.



Netanyahu and his allies have announced an ambitious program of social changes that are deeply unpopular with the secular middle class, according to a recent survey by the Israel Democracy Institute, an influential think tank. They include plans to weaken the Supreme Court and increase already unpopular stipends for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students who are not serving in the military or working. A proposal endorsed by its allies would allow hospitals and businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

The judicial changes, accompanied by a plan to give parliament the power to overturn Supreme Court rulings, could lead to the dismissal of corruption charges against Netanyahu. These proposals have sparked allegations of conflict of interest and raised fears that they could destroy the country’s system of checks and balances.

Protesters are already demonstrating in the streets against the new government. Hundreds of members of Israel’s powerful high-tech sector, dozens of retired fighter pilots and retired diplomats have all issued letters against the new government. These trends could all accelerate in the coming months.



Netanyahu has a firm grip on Likud – by far the largest party in parliament. But several members are unhappy with his generous concessions to smaller parties that left them without the high-level cabinet posts they coveted. Some have even complained publicly. There is no sign of rebellion. But if they remain unhappy, they could hamper his ability to push his agenda through parliament.

Josef Federman, Associated Press


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