Israel’s Netanyahu signs deal with far-right religious party to form government

Emerging agenda represents a clear shift to the right and has sent shock waves among liberal Israelis

The Likud and the far-right Religious Zionist party in Israel have signed an agreement, paving the way for prime minister designate Binyamin Netanyahu to form a government backed by 64 members of the 120-member Knesset parliament.

Under the deal, party leader Bezalel Smotrich will become minister for finance for two years under a rotation agreement with Arieh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, who will be appointed interior minister.

The emerging agreement is expected to stipulate that some illegal West Bank outposts are to be hooked up to the water supply and electricity grid within two months, while others will be legalised within a year.

A Religious Zionist party minister, possibly Mr Smotrich himself, will also oversee civilian affairs in areas of the occupied West Bank under Israeli control, in a move some interpreted as de facto annexation.


“Today we are taking another historic step to establish a Jewish, Zionist and national government that will restore security and governance, promote historic reform in the legal system, regulate and develop the settlement enterprise and strengthen the Jewish identity in the spirit of religious Zionism,” Mr Smotrich said after the signing of the deal.

The incoming government looks set to end Israel’s prolonged period of political instability, which saw five elections in less than four years. However, made up only of religious and right-wing parties, its emerging agenda represents a clear shift to the right and has sent shock waves among liberal Israelis who fear the balance between a democratic and religious society may tip in favour of the latter.

In an interview this week, Mr Netanyahu promised to keep the far-right elements under control. “Israel is not going to be governed by Talmudic law,” he said in a reference to the central text of Jewish law. “We’re not going to ban LGBT forums. As you know, my view on that is sharply different, to put it mildly. We’re going to remain a country of laws.”

The fact that avowed homophobe Avi Maoz, head of the one-member Noam faction in the new coalition, will receive control of the education ministry’s unit responsible for external programming at schools, has prompted a revolt from a number of mayors with the support of outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid, who urged them to act as gatekeepers and not to co-operate with planned changes.

Some local authorities announced that they would continue with programmes that promote pluralism, equality and tolerance even if they had to pay for it themselves.

After Mr Lapid also warned the army against attempts by the far right to influence the military, Mr Netanyahu criticised him on Friday for “attempting to incite rebellion” among military officers and local authorities “against the elected government”.

Mr Lapid hit back, stating he would “not take lectures” from Mr Netanyahu on democracy.

“You had no respect for democracy for even a single moment in the past 18 months. We will fight on and find every legal avenue to maintain Israel’s status as a Jewish, democratic and liberal state,” he said.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem