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He's back! Right wing take off.

Israeli President Hands Mandate to Benjamin Netanyahu to Form Government

Former prime minister has promised to form a right-wing coalition, including ultranationalist and religious parties


By Dov Lieber, WSJ

Updated Nov. 13, 2022 10:25 pm ET



TEL AVIV—Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Sunday handed a mandate to Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government as negotiations over a governing coalition gained momentum.


Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister until he was ousted from power a year and a half ago, prevailed in this month’s election, the country’s fifth in under four years. In consultations with Mr. Herzog last week, Mr. Netanyahu secured the recommendation of 64 lawmakers from his right-wing and religious bloc, giving him a clear majority in the 120-seat Parliament, or Knesset.


Mr. Netanyahu has promised to form a purely right-wing coalition including ultranationalist and religious parties.


Starting Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu will have up to six weeks to establish a new government and try to entice more lawmakers to join. He is already in negotiations with the parties that make up his bloc over assigning key ministerial posts and a policy platform. Lawmakers from his party say a new government could be established as early as this week or next.


Speaking alongside Mr. Herzog, Mr. Netanyahu said he would focus on issues that most Israelis support, such pursuing peace with Arab countries, cutting back on business regulation, fighting Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, keeping Jerusalem the country’s united capital and maintaining the Jewish character of Israel.


“I intend to be the prime minister of everyone. Those who voted for me and those who didn’t,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “We are brothers destined to live side by side.”


Mr. Netanyahu’s key allies include the Religious Zionism party, which won 14 seats in last week’s election. The ticket, co-led by far-right lawmakers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, support annexing parts of the West Bank, expanding Jewish settlements there and asserting greater Jewish control over the country’s contested holy sites. The U.S. last week warned Israel against annexation.


Mr. Ben-Gvir has asked to be public security minister, which includes oversight of the police who control security on what Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. The site, one of the holiest in Judaism and Islam, has frequently seen clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, and tension there has been a catalyst for major conflicts between the two sides for decades.


Mr. Smotrich has said he would like to be defense minister, a job that includes sensitive foreign relations and holds sway over civilian and military policies in the occupied West Bank. He has said he would use the country’s military to put down violent demonstrations by Arab citizens inside Israel.


Mr. Netayahu’s partners are also pushing for a series of legal overhauls, including a new law that would allow lawmakers to overturn Supreme Court rulings in the Knesset.


Of particular importance to his alliance is the ability to overturn rulings that struck down a law retroactively legalizing Israeli outposts built on private Palestinian land and a law formally excluding Ultra-Orthodox Israelis from the country’s mandatory military service for Jewish citizens. Critics of the proposal say it will destroy Israel’s system of checks and balances.


In his remarks on Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu said widespread fears that his next government would harm the country’s democracy were unfounded.


“It wasn’t true back then, and it’s not true today,” he said, referring to previous concerns over his policies.


Mr. Netanyahu’s allies are also pushing legal overhauls that could affect his continuing corruption trial.


Lawmakers from Religious Zionism have said they want to remove the breach-of-trust offense from the books, for which Mr. Netanyahu is standing trial in two of three separate cases against him.


Mr. Netanyahu and his allies say they won’t allow legal overhauls to affect his trial, but legal experts dispute whether that is possible.


Yesh Atid, the party of outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid, said that Sunday was “a black day for Israeli democracy in which a designated prime minister is extorted by his allies, whose shared goal is to extricate him from his trial.”


Mr. Herzog said that while he didn’t want to “trivialize” the legal proceedings against Mr. Netanyahu, he noted that the country’s Supreme Court had already ruled that it wasn’t a legal impediment to Mr. Netanyahu forming a government.


Write to Dov Lieber at dov.lieber@wsj.com

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