Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel’s New Old Prime Minister

Benjamin Netanyahu, already Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, was sworn in as prime minister for a third time yesterday. After legislative elections last month, Netanyahu’s Likud party and his right-wing allies formed a government with 64 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. Netanyahu’s conservative bloc is replacing the liberal government of Yair Lapid.

A new party: Netanyahu has to this point been prime minister for over 15 years, beginning with a short stint in the 1990s. Some members of his coalition, like the United Torah Judaism group, are old partners of Likud. But one of his most important coalition partners is also his newest: the Religious Zionism party.

  • Religious Zionism, a religious-nationalist party, is led by Bezalel Smotrich, and its bloc controls 14 seats. The bloc is expected to be really influential with the next government. Smotrich’s role in the new government is to oversee civil affairs in the West Bank.

A new direction: The government’s agenda is already taking shape.

  • Per agreements with Religious Zionism, policy plans for the new Netanyahu government include a (vague) commitment to annexing the West Bank and expanding the number of Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas.
  • Religious Zionism and Likud also agreed to give people the right to refuse business to clients if service would violate religious beliefs.
  • In a jab at Israel’s activist Supreme Court, the coalition also agreed to have Knesset oversight on the court’s decisions. This may seem extreme, but the Israeli Supreme Court is infamous for its stretched interpretations and squabbles with the Knesset. Now, the Knesset could have ammunition to fight back with.

A new resurgence for Israel? Under the government of Yair Lapid (and his coalition partner Naftali Bennett), Israel had problems with terrorism. In 2022, Israel suffered one of the most intense spates of terrorism it had seen in years. In the summer, there was another short war with Gaza. There have also been tensions regarding control of the Temple Mount. Lapid, meanwhile, expressed support for creating a Palestinian state—despite the radical Islamist Hamas still controlling Gaza. A hard-line Netanyahu government would get in the way of all of this.

Some of the new coalition’s plans are controversial, but it can’t be denied that Jerusalem’s new policies will help Israel’s security tremendously. For the past two years, Israel has been backpedaling in its fight on terrorism. Netanyahu plans to put Israel on the offensive. We can expect a more resurgent Israel on the world scene in the future.

Learn more: Read the article in our January 2023 issue “Bibi Is Back.”