Israel’s 37th government took power today, December 29, 2022, as Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition were sworn in at the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). It was a fiery morning session with protests by opposition MK’s, several of whom were escorted out of the room.
Passing the reign to Netanyahu’s government was Yair Lapid, Israel’s prime minister over the past year, who inherited his government from Naftali Bennett. Bennett held the position of prime minister in the previous year.
Netanyahu spoke to the Knesset about his plans to be prime minister over the next four years. He said, “The new government is setting out its journey today in the middle of Israel’s 75th year. This is an important milestone.” Netanyahu was immediately interrupted in his speech by an outcry in the Knesset, that was silenced by the Speaker, who called on unruly members to keep silent. It was a political upheaval that is expected to continue through Netanyahu’s reign as prime minister.
Netanyahu continued with his speech, stating his past accomplishments, including creating Israel as a high-tech powerhouse, and mentioning his historic peace achievements with Arab nations. He also spoke of his present goals. These include three important tasks. According to Netanyahu, “The first is to frustrate Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear arsenal that will threaten us and the entire world.”
Netanyahu was interrupted again by loudly vocal MK’s, but he continued his speech. “We will ensure Israel’s military superiority by continual strengthening. The first task is to make sure that Iran does not destroy us with an atom bomb.” After he received more heckling from the opposition, Netanyahu answered with the statement, “You who supported the nuclear agreement, why don’t you listen? You may learn something. Who are you to mock us?”
Netanyahu continued outlying his goals. “The second task is to develop Israel’s infrastructure including… to develop a bullet train that will travel hundreds of kilometers an hour, that will connect the country from the very north to the very south. We want to do away with the periphery, and cause every area of Israel to flourish.”
Regardless of the vocal opposition interrupting his speech, Netanyahu was undaunted: “The third task is to continue to expand the circle of peace with Arab countries, in order to put an end to the Israeli-Arab conflict.”
These will be the three major goals during Netanyahu’s reign in power. He explained that the new government will also address other crucial areas to restore quiet and personal security, as well as governing ability to the state of Israel.
Netanyahu took a break and watched as members of the Knesset would not relent in speaking against him. After a short while, he continued to state his goals. “We are determined to address the cost of living and the price of housing, and to improve the education system for all of Israel’s children.”
He admitted that there were disagreements between Knesset members, and defended his new government as part of Israel’s democracy. He said members should stop calls for rebellion. But, some Israelis fear there will be an end to fairness and justice, as members of Netanyahu’s new coalition are considered “far-right.” There are dichotomies in Israeli society, and a lot of antagonism towards the incoming government. Those Jews living inside Israel, as well as those living in the Diaspora, think that the new government will enact laws that threaten democracy.
One piece of legislation passing through the halls of the Knesset has to do with the Law of Return. Ultra-Orthodox members of the new government want to eliminate a clause that allows Jews to immigrate based on one of their grandparents being Jewish. Immigration to Israel could become much harder under the new government for Diaspora Jews, especially those who are not Orthodox or who have not undergone an Orthodox conversion.
This is the sixth time that Netanyahu has presented his government to a Knesset session, asking for the confidence of coalition and opposition members in the room. He said that the sense of mission is to ensure the security and future of the state of Israel during the next four years. He included a Hebrew prayer blessing before finishing his speech.
After a few minutes, Netanyahu introduced Knesset members that would have ministerial positions in his new government. The two most important roles besides the prime minister portfolio, are Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eli Cohen, and Minister of Defense, Yoav Galant. There are other controversial figures in Netanyahu’s coalition that have been given important portfolios including: Minister of Interior and Health, Aryeh Deri (from the Shas party); Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich (from the Religious Zionism party); and Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir (from the Jewish Power party).
Deri has been convicted of inappropriate handing of funds, twice, in previous governments, and served time in jail. Smotrich has been accused of wanting to change Israel’s justice system and weaken the power of Israel’s High Court of Justice. Ben Gvir has been accused of being a “racist.” He will have sweeping powers over Israel’s police system.
When it was his turn to speak, Yair Lapid spelled out his government’s accomplishments, including a strong opposition to Iran’s nuclear program, as well as insisting that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards be kept on the terror list of other countries. He also said his government strongly opposed the attempt by Palestinian leadership to reestablish an embassy in east Jerusalem. He claimed another accomplishment was strengthening the Abraham Accords. Furthermore, Lapid added to his list of accomplishments, the opening of new economic markets to Israel; renewed relationships with Turkey including an aviation agreement; rebuilding the national diplomacy system; and fighting against the Durbin Convention which Israel considers antisemitic.
One of the controversial measures of the Lapid government was the signed agreement between Israel and Lebanon (through US mediation) regarding maritime economic borders, including the benefits of natural gas drilling for both Israel and Lebanon. It’s been a measure that Netanyahu has strongly objected to because Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations, and it meant Israeli forces permanently withdrawing from part of Israel’s sea border with Lebanon. The Lapid government was trying to avoid war in the north after threats from Hezbollah in the summer and fall of 2022. Netanyahu may look to change the maritime agreement, despite any future threat of war.
Targeted assassination of terrorist leaders was an objective of Lapid’s government and is expected to continue with Netanyahu’s government.
The cost of living has become a serious issue over the past several years, including the high cost of housing. Lapid claims there will be a future drop in housing prices because of measures his government took over the past year. It is unclear how Netanyahu will follow-up on the housing crisis even though he promised to rectify the problem.
A big topic of controversy involves issues related to the LGBTQ community, which Lapid’s government granted advances to. Members of the Netanyahu government are expected to introduce restrictions, because of the religious nature of his coalition.
Outside the Knesset there were protests this morning, with thousands of Israelis concerned that the incoming Netanyahu government will not represent them. This is especially true of the LGBTQ community who expect to see a diminishing role in their power.
Members of Netanyahu’s own party, the Likud, are expected to quietly express their disappointment in Netanyahu’s choices for key positions in his government, which left out several faithful MK’s from influential jobs. For example, it is not clear what position former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, will be given in the new government. He has hinted that Diaspora relations is an important topic to him.
Netanyahu wants to reach a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia, hopefully, under the current Abraham Accords. However, it will depend on how far the United States is willing to go in repairing their ties with the Saudis under the Biden Administration. America is a key ally for Israel, and Netanyahu is expected to court President Joseph Biden, as well as members of the US Congress, as he has done in the past.
The reform of the civil administration in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), representing both Jews and Arabs, and consisting of half a million people, is a hot topic. The current rules and regulations over this strategic area are not understood very well by Israeli society, nor the international community. Netanyahu’s government is expected to advance bills that will change the rules of law regarding this civil oversight, especially of Jewish settlements. It has been reported that under the new government there will be preparations for the annexation of Israeli controlled land beyond the green line. This is expected to be a controversial issue that could become a point of contention between Israel and the current US government.
Israel is an important beacon of light, and its presence, globally, will be analyzed closely as this new government begins implementing its policies. Relations with Israel’s diplomatic community, under the direction of Eli Cohen, will be of extreme importance to Israel’s Foreign Ministry representatives. How well Israeli diplomats explain Netanyahu’s new policies will be a key factor in keeping relations with other countries warm and friendly.