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Israel’s Netanyahu launches talks on forming government

#Israels #Netanyahu #launches #talks #forming #government

Veteran hawk Benjamin Netanyahu launched negotiations Friday with his ultra-Orthodox and far-right allies on forming what could be the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, raising concerns at home and abroad.

Netanyahu’s Likud party won 32 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, according to the latest official results of the election released on Thursday night.

That combined with 18 for two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and 14 for the rising extreme-right alliance called Religious Zionism gave the right-wing bloc supporting Netanyahu 64 seats.

The centrist bloc of outgoing caretaker prime minister Yair Lapid won 51 seats, marking a definitive win for Netanyahu and an end to Israel’s unprecedented era of political deadlock, which forced five elections in less than four years.

That will likely mean prominent roles for the co-leaders of far-right Religious Zionism, which doubled its representation at Tuesday’s election.

“Where are they headed?” said the headline of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper with pictures of Netanyahu and Itamar Ben-Gvir, an extreme-right figure who looks set to be a major player in the new administration.

“It’s going to be an unprecedented government,” columnist Sima Kadmon wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

“Most of the important portfolios will be in the hands of fanatics… everybody knows that if only a fraction of what the new government promised to do is carried out, this is going to be a different country with a different system of government,” she added.

– Ministries for far-right –

The election result came amid the backdrop of soaring violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel army said its fighter jets early Friday targeted a rocket manufacturing site in the blockaded Gaza Strip, in response to several rockets fired towards Israel.

On Thursday four Palestinians, including an assailant, were killed by Israeli forces in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced “deep concern” about the violence and called for de-escalation.

Ben-Gvir, a firebrand known for anti-Arab rhetoric and incendiary calls for Israel to annex the entire West Bank, has said he wants to be public security minister in the new government, a post that would put him in charge of the police.

In recent days, Ben-Gvir has called repeatedly for the security services to use more force in countering Palestinian unrest.

“It’s time we go back to being masters of our country,” Ben-Gvir said on election night.

Since clinching his comeback after roughly 14 months in opposition, the 73-year-old Netanyahu has already instructed Yariv Levin, a close ally, to begin talks with Religious Zionism over portfolios.

Religious Zionism’s Bezalel Smotrich has publicly said he wants to be defence minister.

On the ultra-Orthodox wing of the alliance, Shas party head Aryeh Deri, invigorated by winning 11 seats, is also expected to play a major role in the government, with his eyes on either the interior or finance ministries.

– ‘International legitimacy’ –

Netanyahu was aware that propelling right-wing figures into key positions could “damage” relations abroad, said Shlomo Fischer of the Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem.

“Bibi does not want Ben Gvir and Deri to lead the dance,” he told AFP.

“He is very careful. He does not want to lose his international legitimacy… I think he could try to widen his coalition to minimise their influence.”

News of Netanyahu’s dramatic return was greeted by right-wing and nationalist leaders around the world: Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Hungary’s Viktor Orban were among the first to offer their congratulations.

Yet other tradition allies of Israel were more cautious.

While declining to speculate on the government make-up, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington hoped “that all Israeli government officials will continue to share the values of an open, democratic society including tolerance and respect for all in civil society, particularly for minority groups.”

Britain called on “all Israeli parties to refrain from inflammatory language and demonstrate tolerance and respect for minority groups,” in a statement, just hours after rejecting suggestions by previous UK prime minister Liz Truss that its embassy in Israel could be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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