image Photo: Flash90

Netanyahu edges closer to government formation

The right-wing Religious Zionism party has reached a deal to join Israel’s 37th government.

By Erin Viner

Israeli Prime Minister-Designate Benjamin Netanyahu has now secured membership of 46 of the Knesset’s overall 120 seats, so far.

The conservative, rightwing Likud leader is now on the path to one of the most stable governments in years, after being out of office only 18-months, following a comfortable lead by his alliance won a comfortable victory in the 1 November election.

The country’s fifth election in less than four years heralded a comeback for Netanyahu, now bolstered by smaller ultranationalist and religious parties.

According to an announcement by Likud, the Religious Zionism (“HaTzionut HaDatit” in Hebrew) will also be in charge of government policies in the West Bank districts of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, in coordination with Netanyahu. That same land is demanded by the Palestinians for a future state, to which the party has long opposed. It has instead long advocated the full extension of Israeli sovereignty throughout the territories.

“This is another significant step bringing us closer to forming a right-wing, nationalist government that will look out for all Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu declared.

The Religious Zionism party will also be the first to take the helm of the Finance Ministry as part of a rotation agreement. Local media reported that party leader, Bezalel Smotrich, 42, will serve as the next government’s Finance Minister from the onset, and later replaced by another candidate.

Smotrich previously served briefly in a previous Netanyahu-led government as Transportation Minister from 2019-2020. He supports conservative fiscal policies such as lowering the debt-to-GDP ratio and a decrease in the universal tax on businesses; while also aiming to rein in strikes in the public sector.

The Religious Zionism leader is more known for his nationalistic politics, however, than his economic views. He ran together with far-right ally Itamar Ben-Gvir, though they now head separate factions in Knesset.

Ben-Gvir, whose Otzmah Yehudit party already reached an agreement to join the government, will serve as the head of the newly-created National Security Ministry, with powers over police in Israel and the West Bank.