JERUSALEM — Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is well on track to form a new government after leading his bloc to win 64 parliamentary seats, a decisive majority, in last week’s general elections.
On Sunday, Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, began informal coalition negotiations with expected partners.
He is expected to lead a government formed with major allies — the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism party, and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties of Shas and UTJ.
Religious Zionism, a far-right party that emerged as the third-largest faction in the parliament and helped Netanyahu seal the majority, has already shown strong interest in the public security and defense portfolios.
Analysts said, however, the ambitious far-right player could put a new government at odds with many of its allies abroad and will force Netanyahu into a lot of maneuvering.
Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, two leaders of the far-right Religious Zionism, hold extreme anti-Arab views and are against any concessions to the Palestinians.
Both are in favor of annexing territories in the West Bank which Israel occupied in the June 1967 Middle East War.
“Netanyahu will try probably to moderate these forces,” said Gideon Rahat, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, adding that although they are an integral part of his coalition, existing division between them in key realms such as foreign policy may quickly lead to inter-coalition conflicts.
The rise of Religious Zionism is believed to be for many reasons, including heightened tensions in Israel and the West Bank recently between the Jewish and Arab people.
Whereas Netanyahu in the past has sought to restrain, keep things calm and manage the conflicts, there will be a loud jarring sound in the government seeking to be heard, said Jonathan Rynhold, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University.
In previous election campaigns, Netanyahu vowed to promote the annexation of the West Bank but failed to deliver.
This was probably due to the fear of the international backlash towards such a move, while centrist elements within his previous coalition also prevented him from moving forward.
“Netanyahu is a far more cautious politician in general, and he will look at the consequences of doing that.
“I doubt he would do it unless he thought he could get away with it without paying too serious a price,” Rynhold explained.
The government may also be in a tricky position when it comes to its relations with Arab countries.
Israel has had a long peaceful relationship with neighboring Egypt and Jordan. Newer relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan could also be put to the test.
Common interests which led to the thawing of Israeli-Arab relations, mainly in confronting Iran, will likely guarantee a continuation of the relations, as long as tensions on other fronts do not boil over.
“For them, the most important element of the relationship is that Israel helps them against major threats to their regimes … which are two-fold — Iran and radical Islamist organizations,” said Rynhold.
However, the sensitivity of the Palestinian issue is also palpable to many Arab governments, as Israeli-Palestinian tensions can get to a point that “angers their own citizens,” according to the analyst.
Netanyahu’s opponents are also concerned that a rise of rightists will embolden him to make major changes on many fronts like foreign policy and the judicial system.
Currently, under trial on several corruption charges, his political partners have promised to reform the judicial system, making changes that may cancel the trial against him.
One of the main laws being suggested is a law that enables a regular majority in the parliament to overturn supreme court rulings.
“If they are successful in that, then it makes it easier for them to do a lot of other things they want to do,” said Rynhold.
Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, sees the trial as persecution against him and his supporters. – Xinhua