Netanyahu receives presidential mandate, moves to form government in Israel

The former prime minister will have 28 days to negotiate the coalition with his partners.
Netanyahu Herzog

PHOTO/RONEN ZVULUN vía AP  -   Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, makes a statement with President-elect Isaac Herzog after a special session of the Knesset by which Israeli lawmakers elected a new president

Israeli President Isaac Herzog today mandated former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government, which is expected to be the most right-wing in the history of the Jewish state and to break the political deadlock it has been experiencing for the past four years. 

Netanyahu will now have 28 days to form his coalition government, which would include two ultra-Orthodox parties and Religious Zionism, an alliance of far-right formations known for their anti-Arab rhetoric and Jewish supremacist, ultra-nationalist, xenophobic and homophobic stances. 

"We will do everything so that, with God's help, it will be a stable and successful government, a responsible and dedicated government, which will work for the benefit of all the inhabitants of the country without exception," the former president said during a ceremony at the presidential residence in Jerusalem. 

"I intend to work together to increase the space for agreement. Even if there are differences of opinion between parts of society on fundamental issues, there are more than enough issues around which the vast majority can unite and agree. We are brothers, we are destined to live side by side," he added on the context of great political polarisation following his bloc's victory in the elections on 1 November. 

Ultraortodoxos elecciones Israel
AFP/MENAHEM KAHANA  -   Rabbi Baruch Dov Povarsky is helped to cast his vote at a polling station in Bnei Brak, an Orthodox Jewish town near Tel Aviv, on November 1, 2022

In the same vein, in handing over the presidential mandate, Herzog stressed that "the citizens of Israel require a stable and functioning government, a government that serves all citizens, both those who supported and voted for it and those who opposed its establishment"

Furthermore, Herzog warned that while the Netanyahu-led government will not reflect "all the worldviews and positions of the legislature", it must "lead a process of connection and unification among all segments of the population and conduct a process of responsible, cautious, open and frank dialogue with the other branches of the state". 

Assault on Justice 

This latest reference comes against a backdrop of concern among the opposition, which will be led by incumbent Prime Minister Yair Lapid, about possible justice reforms by the new government that threaten the rule of law. 

These reforms, seen by many as an attempt to undermine the independence of judges, could include changes that would help Netanyahu in the ongoing corruption trial against him. 

Today's nomination of the former prime minister to form an executive comes after winning the recommendation of 64 MPs during presidential consultations last week. 

Netanyahu, whose Likud party won the elections with 32 seats, was recommended not only by his own party but also by 14 MPs from the far-right Religious Zionism alliance and 11 from Shas and seven from United Judaism for the Torah, both ultra-Orthodox parties.

Itamar Ben-Gvir
AFP/EMMANUEL DUNAND  -   Israeli Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir, who heads the Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) party, gestures as he is held during a special session to vote on a new government at the parliament in Jerusalem, June 13, 2021

While the parties had already begun informal negotiations since the election results were known - which showed a clear majority for the first time in almost four years - formal dialogue on the distribution of ministerial portfolios will begin after today's presidential nomination

This dialogue will also address possible conditions that the parties may demand as a requirement for their inclusion in the Executive, something that the ultra-right-wing Itamar Ben Gvir already did today by calling for a ban on immigration to Israel for people who have converted to Judaism through synagogues belonging to the more progressive Reform movement, with more flexible criteria. 

Ben Gvir, the most extremist of Netanyahu's new partners and the "number two" of Religious Zionism - accused more than 50 times and convicted 8 times of rioting, vandalism, incitement to racism and support for a terrorist organisation - has demanded the Ministry of Public Security, which controls the police, which worries the more moderate sectors.  

Although negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, Hebrew media reports suggest that the ultra-orthodox leader of Shas, Aryeh Deri, has applied for the finance portfolio, while Bezalel Smotrich, who heads Religious Zionism, insists on becoming defence minister.