Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu to receive mandate to form government
Right-wing former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will receive an official mandate Sunday to form a government that could be the most extreme in the country's history, sparking concern at home and abroad.
After a period of unprecedented political gridlock that forced five elections in less than four years, polls on 1 November gave the veteran leader and his far-right allies a clear majority in the 120-seat parliament, likely sealing Netanyahu's return to power.
Sixty-four lawmakers recommended that President Isaac Herzog appoint Netanyahu to form a government, a presidency statement said Friday, following several days of consultations.
The former premier has been summoned "to accept the task of forming the government from the president on Sunday", it added.
He will have 28 days to form a cabinet, with a 14-day extension available if required.
Netanyahu led Israel from 1996 to 1999 and then again from 2009 to 2021 in a record tenure in office.
His right-wing Likud party and its allies - two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and the extreme-right Religious Zionism bloc - won 64 seats in the Knesset, enabling Netanyahu to form a stable governing coalition.
The 73-year-old remains on trial over corruption allegations, which he denies.
The presidency statement said 28 lawmakers had instead recommended Herzog tap Netanyahu's centrist rival, outgoing premier Yair Lapid.
Four parties - including Mansour Abbas's Islamist-leaning Ra'am, which draws its support from Palestinian citizens of Israel and made history by supporting Lapid's coalition government last year - refused to recommend any candidate.
Netanyahu will likely have to juggle demands from his extreme-right allies for policy commitments and cabinet posts, but is not expected to face insurmountable challenges during the coalition negotiations.
Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, co-leaders of the Religious Zionism bloc, have publicly demanded control of two key ministries - public security and defence.
Ben-Gvir, an extremist known for his violent anti-Palestinian rhetoric and incendiary calls for Israel to annex the entire West Bank, has repeatedly urged for the security services to step up deadly raids against Palestinians.
2022 has already become the deadliest year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank on record, according to the United Nations, amid an ongoing violent Israeli assault on Palestinian cities.
The electoral success of Religious Zionism has raised fears among its political opponents and Palestinian citizens of Israel, who form 21 percent of Israel's population and for years have been at the receiving end of Ben-Gvir's vitriol.
The US on Thursday labelled Ben-Gvir "repugnant" after he appeared at a memorial event for Jewish extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane.
Herzog, whose role is largely symbolic, was reported to have tried to convince Lapid and his defence minister Benny Gantz to form a unity cabinet with Netanyahu, in order to keep Ben-Gvir from entering government.
The presidency publicly denied the claims.
But Herzog was caught sending a warning about Ben-Gvir.
"You have a partner who the entire world around us is worried about," he said this week following a meeting with ultra-Orthodox leaders, apparently unaware his microphone was switched on.
He also told Ben-Gvir Thursday that "there is a certain image of you and your party which seems, and I'll say it in all honesty, worrying in many regards."
He said he had received "questions from Israeli citizens and world leaders... very sensitive questions on human rights".
Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party - which was invigorated after winning 11 seats - is also expected to play a major role in the government, with his eyes on either the interior or finance ministries, according to Israeli media.
Deri was convicted of tax evasion in 2021, and was previously jailed for fraud.
The new administration is expected to make judicial reform a key priority, as it moves to redress what it has condemned as an activist, leftist agenda of Israeli judges.