Barely 18 months after he was ousted as prime minister, battling corruption charges and estranged from former allies, Benjamin Netanyahu is poised for a remarkable return to power at the head of the most rightwing government in Israeli history.
Following an unexpectedly clear-cut victory in last month’s election, the Likud party has clinched provisional deals with all five of the far-right and religious groups with which the 73-year-old hopes to form a government. On Thursday night, Netanyahu requested that Israel’s president grant him a further two weeks to finalise the process.
The outline of the new government has been hailed by supporters, who see it as a once-in-a-generation chance to remake Israel in their own deeply conservative and religious image. But the anti-Arab, homophobic and sexist rhetoric of some of its potential key figures, along with plans to dismantle judicial checks and balances, have sparked a backlash from liberal opponents and growing unease among Israel’s allies.
“This election really is a turning point,” said Dahlia Scheindlin, a political analyst and pollster. “It is a significant break from the past in terms of how extreme they are, and how openly committed they are to undermining democratic institutions and pushing the nuts and bolts of annexation [of the occupied West Bank].”
Much of the furore surrounding the new government has centred on two ultranationalists with a history of provocative anti-Arab rhetoric, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. An alliance headed by the pair and brokered by Netanyahu came third in last month’s election, giving them leverage to demand roles that will give them huge sway over relations between Israelis and Palestinians — both in Israel and in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967.
Ben-Gvir was previously convicted of incitement to racism and, until a couple of years ago, kept in his house a picture of a Jewish extremist who gunned down 29 Palestinians in a mosque….
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