The entire country will be represented by policies of his incoming government, said Prime Minister-Designate Benjamin Netanyahu.
By Erin Viner
“Everyone will live in accordance with their own faith. This will not become a nation of religious law, it will be a country in which we tend to all citizens of Israel, without exception,” said Netanyahu, who has already held top office for a record 15 years during previous terms as Israel’s longest-serving premier.
The pledge comes as religious-nationalist parties slated to join his new coalition press ahead with contested legislation.
One bill submitted for preliminary review by the Knesset could potentially grant Defense Ministry powers to far-right Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich, who is set to become the next Finance Minister as part of a rotation agreement. Critics fear the party, known as “HaTzionut HaDatit” in Hebrew, would promote Jewish settlement in the biblical West Bank districts of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley that Palestinians demand for a future state. The Religious Zionism faction party has long opposed the Two-State Solution to the Palestinian conflict, and has instead long advocated the full extension of Israeli sovereignty throughout the territories.
Other controversial proposed bills would consolidate cabinet authority over police by Smotrich‘ fellow ultranationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir, and enable ultra-Orthodox Jewish politician Aryeh Deri to also serve as Finance Minister despite previous convictions of tax fraud.
After being out of office only 18-months, Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party placed first in the 1 November election, and is now on course to establish one of the most stable governments in years with his nationalist-religious allies after being shunned by many mainstream parties over his ongoing trial for corruption.
The country’s fifth election in less than four years heralded a comeback for Netanyahu, now bolstered by smaller ultranationalist and religious parties.
“We were elected to lead in our way, the way of the nationalist-right and the way of the liberal-right, and so shall we do,” he told the Knesset, amid heckling from center-left lawmakers.
He also pledged that his government would preserve the so-called “Status Quo” policy to guarantee freedom of worship in Israel and management of access to the Temple Mount, which has been a flashpoint of violence with the Palestinians.
The holy site is considered by the Jewish People as the holiest site in the world, also revered to Christians. The compound is Islam’s third most sacred site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia; and the Al-Aqsa Mosque area is the most sensitive site in the generations-old conflict with Israel.
Even though Israel regards the entirety of of Jerusalem as its eternal capital and the center of the Jewish faith, it has observed the “status quo” arrangement that existed prior to its reunification of Jerusalem following the 1967 Six Day War, that bars Jewish prayer at the compound as not to ‘inflame Muslim anger.’ Religious worship on the al-Aqsa compound is restricted to Muslims, while Jews pray at the Western Wall nearby. Ben-Gvir has called for an end to the prayer ban.
Ben-Gvir and Smotrich were among 40 lawmakers – a third of parliament – who signed a petition calling on outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz to end the detention without trial of two Jewish residents of the West Bank suspected of militant ties, on claims they had been denied due process of law. Gantz on Tuesday rejected the appeal, calling it a “tailwind for terrorism.”
“Netanyahu is weak, terrified of his trial. People who are younger than him – more extremist and determined than him – have taken over,” Lapid told the Knesset.
Netanyahu has 21 December to form a government. Failure to do so could mean another election.