Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as Prime Minister of Israel for the sixth time on Thursday. The leader of the conservative Likud opens a legislature with the most religious and right-wing government coalition in the history of Israel, which has among its priorities the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. As the 31 ministers and five deputy ministers of the new Executive – among whom there are only four women – were sworn in in the Israeli Parliament (Knesset), thousands of people protested outside against the cabinet, which includes two ultra-Orthodox religious parties and the controversial party far-right Religious Zionism.
The far-right alliance that has entered the Israeli Executive is made up of three parties, whose leaders are Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism), Itamar Ben-Gvir (Jewish Power) and Avi Maoz (Noam), three settlers living in the West Bank. They are credited with making settlement expansion in the West Bank high on the coalition’s priorities. “The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel. The Government will promote and develop settlements in all parts of Israel in the Galilee, Negev, Golan, Judea and Samaria”, begins the document with which Netanyahu presented this Wednesday the general lines of the policy of his new Government and the coalition agreements with Your partners.
The document also provides for legalizing, within 60 days, from the takeover, dozens of settlements in the West Bank built illegally (according to Israeli law) before February 2011, including “the guarantee that they have the infrastructure, water, electricity and adequate public facilities. Most of the international community considers all Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal.
The government coalition also opens the door, albeit ambiguously enough, to the annexation of the West Bank, which was frozen with the signing of the agreement to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates in 2020, the most resounding step of the so-called peace agreements. Abraham promoted by the US Administration of Donald Trump through which Israel normalizes relations with some States of the Arab world. “The prime minister will formulate and promote policies within the framework of which sovereignty will be applied to Judea and Samaria,” the text states, adding that this application will be made in accordance with “national and international interests.” “Applying sovereignty” in the occupied territories means de facto annexing parts of the West Bank.
Ahead of the inauguration, Israel’s parliament on Tuesday approved an amendment allowing Netanyahu ally Aryeh Dery, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Shas party, to be appointed minister despite his criminal conviction for tax crimes. The amendment also paved the way for Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, who has been appointed Finance Minister, to also assume a new position as Minister of Civil Administration (the arm of the Israeli army in charge of civil affairs for the Palestinian population in the occupied territories), within the Ministry of Defence.
Smotrich, co-founder of the NGO Regavim, which monitors and prosecutes construction by Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank without Israeli permits, will oversee Israeli and Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank, an area under full Israeli control that is home to nearly 500,000 Israeli settlers and more than 300,000 Palestinians.
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The Palestinian Authority has denounced the government’s plans. “The strengthening of the settlements in the West Bank is in contradiction with all the resolutions of the United Nations, the most prominent of which is Resolution No. 2334 issued by the Security Council,” said the official spokesman for the Palestinian Presidency, Nabil Abu. Rudeineh, to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA. The resolution affirms that settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are illegal.
Police control and anti-LGTBI policies
The Knesset on Wednesday approved a bill giving new national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir more authority over the police. Ben-Gvir was convicted in 2007 of inciting racism and supporting the illegal terrorist group Kaj. The coalition agreement between Jewish Power and Netanyahu stipulates that the Border Police (which serves on the Israeli borders, as well as the West Bank and East Jerusalem) will be separated from the Israel Police and will come under the direct control of the new minister. of National Security.
President Isaac Herzog met with Ben-Gvir on Wednesday to express his “deep concern” about anti-LGBTI statements by religious parliamentarians. The president urged Ben-Gvir to “calm the stormy winds, be vigilant and accept the criticism” raised by the incoming government’s position on issues that concern the LGTBI community and the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The controversial minister and other leaders of Religious Zionism have also suggested that the status quo in the Esplanade of Mosques to allow Jewish prayer, a move that could further inflame tensions with the Palestinians. In an exclusive interview with the CNN news network, King Abdullah II of Jordan stated that there is “concern” in his country about the possibility that Israel will try to promote changes in the custody of the Muslim and Christian holy places in East Jerusalem, and warned: “If people want to come into conflict with us, we are quite prepared.”
Criticism of the new government
In his speech this Thursday before the plenary session of Parliament, Netanyahu described three major missions for his coalition: stopping Iran’s nuclear program, developing state infrastructure, with an emphasis on connecting the so-called periphery with the center of the country, and restoring security. internal and governance. His presentation was interrupted by prolonged chants of “Weak! Weak!” from the opposition benches.
The coalition agreements have already drawn unprecedented criticism from defense circles, former Israeli diplomats, retired judges and officials, the business community, the education system, human rights groups and other sectors of Israeli society.
“With these agreements, Israel puts an end to the possible two-state solution, and to the aspiration of the Palestinian people for self-determination. The agreements are a plan to carry out a de facto annexation. Those who still believe in the two-state solution will have to look for another planet,” says political analyst and public opinion expert Dahlia Scheindlin.
Thousands of people demonstrated in the vicinity of Parliament during the swearing in of the new members of the Government, with banners reading messages such as “down with racism”, “danger”, “Palestinian lives matter”, in addition to hundreds of flags of the LGBTI community.
Among the protesters, Pepe Goldman, 70, a human rights and anti-occupation activist, stated: “This breaks a bit the bubble of many people who, living here, wanted to ignore what is happening in the occupied territories and sooner or later the undemocratic norms come in here too. What we are seeing is the destruction of the last remnants of the Israeli democratic system.”
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