By Elliott Gotkine, Michael Schwartz and Idris Muktar Ibrahim, CNN
Israel’s President Isaac Herzog asked Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government on Sunday, allowing the former prime minister to secure the country’s top job for a record sixth time and extend his record as the nation’s longest-serving leader.
Netanyahu, who served 12 years as Prime Minister before losing office in 2021, was recommended by party leaders representing more than half of Israel’s 120 parliament or Knesset members after the president concluded a political consultation with them.
“Israel’s citizens require a stable and functioning government,” he said in remarks after the closed-door meeting with Netanyahu. “A government that serves all citizens of Israel, both those who supported and voted for it and those who opposed its establishment; a government that works on behalf of and for the sake of all shades of the Israeli mosaic, from all communities, sectors, faiths, religions, lifestyles, beliefs, and values, and that treats them all with sensitivity and responsibility.”
“Please God, it will be a stable, successful, and responsible government of all of the people of Israel,” said Netanyahu, speaking alongside Herzog. “We are brothers and we will live together side by side.”
Israelis voted on November 1 for a fifth time in four years to break the political stalemate in the country.
Netanyahu’s Likud party has the most seats in the Knesset, and the former prime minister will have 28 days to form a coalition government, with the possibility of a two-week extension.
But Netanyahu isn’t in for an easy ride: he is now likely to lead an ever-polarized country and possibly one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history.
During negotiations, he will have to divide up ministries among his coalition partners and haggle over policies.
This is where things get interesting. The five factions allied with Netanyahu’s Likud have a four-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament, and failure to give any one of them what they want could provoke them to bring the coalition down.
When it comes to the ultra-Orthodox parties, their demands are uncontroversial as far as Netanyahu is concerned: bigger budgets for religious schools, and the right not to teach their children secular subjects such as math and English.
The real showdowns are likely to come with his new extreme right-wing allies. Netanyahu rode to power on the back of a stunning showing by the Religious Zionism/Jewish Power list, which, with 14 seats, is now the third-biggest grouping in the Knesset. Its leader, Itamar Ben Gvir, who has a conviction for inciting anti-Arab racism and supporting terrorism, has demanded to be made Public Security Minister, in charge of Israel’s police.
Ben Gvir’s partner is Bezalel Smotrich, who has described himself as a “proud homophobe.” He has said Israel should be run according to Jewish law. He has spoken of reducing the power of the Supreme Court, and striking out the crime of breach of trust — which just so happens to be part of the indictments against Netanyahu in his ongoing corruption trials. Netanyahu has long denied all of the charges. If Smotrich wins the Justice Ministry he covets, he may be able to make these things happen, ending Netanyahu’s legal worries.
Yet these may be the least of his concerns. Having joined forces with the extreme right wing, the sixth reign of Netanyahu may end up further alienating the half of Israel that didn’t vote for the bloc of parties backing him.
Assuming Netanyahu can reach a coalition agreement by the December 11 deadline, the Knesset Speaker will call a confidence vote within seven days. If all goes to plan, his government will then take office.
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