JERUSALEM: Veteran hawk Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday launched negotiations with his ultra-Orthodox and far-right allies over the formation of what could be the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, sparking concerns in the country and abroad.
Netanyahu’s Likud Party won 32 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, according to the latest official election results released Thursday evening.
That combined with 18 for two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and 14 for the rising far-right alliance called Religious Zionism gave the right-wing bloc the support Netanyahu 64 seats.
Outgoing caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s centrist bloc won 51 seats, marking a final departure victory for Netanyahu and an end to Israel’s unprecedented era of political gridlock, which has 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 in Tuesday’s election.
” Where are they going ? read the headline of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper with photos of Netanyahu and Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right figure who appears to be a major player in the new administration.
“It will be an unprecedented government,” wrote columnist Sima Kadmon in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
“Most of the important portfolios will be in the hands of fanatics… everyone knows that if only a fraction of what the new government has promised to do is achieved, it will be a different country with a different system of government, ” she added.
The election result came amid growing violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Israeli military said Friday morning that its fighter jets targeted a rocket manufacturing site in the blockaded Gaza Strip, in response to several rockets fired at Israel.
On Thursday, four Palestinians, including an assailant, were killed by Israeli forces in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed “deep concern” over the violence and called for de-escalation.
Ben-Gvir, an arsonist known for his anti-Arab rhetoric and inflammatory calls for Israel to annex the entire West Bank, said he wanted to be public security minister in the new government, a post that would put him in charge of the font.
In recent days, Ben-Gvir has repeatedly called on the security services to use more force to counter the Palestinian unrest.
“It’s time for us to become masters of our country again,” Ben-Gvir said on election night.
Since returning after about 14 months in opposition, Netanyahu, 73, has already asked close ally Yariv Levin to start talks with Religious Zionism over the portfolios.
Bezalel Smotrich, of Religious Zionism, has publicly declared that he wants to be defense minister.
In the ultra-Orthodox wing of the alliance, Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, invigorated by the 11-seat win, is also expected to play a major role in government, with his eyes on interior ministries or finance.
Netanyahu was aware that propelling right-wing figures into key positions could “harm” foreign relations, said Shlomo Fischer of the Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem.
“Bibi doesn’t want Ben Gvir and Deri to lead the dance,” he told AFP.
“He’s very careful. He doesn’t want to lose his international legitimacy…I think he could try to broaden his coalition to minimize their influence.”
News of Netanyahu’s dramatic return was welcomed 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 traditional allies of Israel were more cautious.
While declining to speculate on the composition of the government, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington hopes “all Israeli government officials will continue to share the values ​​of an open and democratic society. , including tolerance and respect for all in civil society, in particular for minority groups.”
Britain called on ‘all Israeli parties to refrain from inflammatory language and to show tolerance and respect towards minority groups’, in a statement, just hours after rejecting the former premier’s suggestions British Minister Liz Truss that her embassy in Israel could be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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