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Netanyahu must steer ship of state

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After weeks of political horse trading after his clear victory in Israel’s November 1 election, Benjamin Netanyahu at last has been able to advise President Isaac Herzog that he has the numbers to secure his return as prime minister. That reflects a remarkable comeback by Mr Netanyahu, 73, who appeared headed for political oblivion when he lost office 18 months ago. His leadership should do much to fortify Israel’s defiance against the existential threats it faces from Iran and terrorist groups including Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

But he must not ignore reservations that exist about the deals done to form a coalition that critics say will be the most far-right government in the Jewish state’s history. For once, it is not only the usual claque of mindless anti-Israel campaigners who are worried about some of the names included in Mr Netanyahu’s line-up. Significantly, the influential Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, which has led the way supporting successive Israeli governments for many years, has expressed concern. In a joint statement congratulating Mr Netanyahu, chairman Mark Leibler and executive director Colin Rubenstein said: “Mr Netanyahu is, of course, Israel’s longest-serving and most experienced political leader. We take him at his word that he will be the one steering the ship of state, not his coalition partners. We hope and expect that this means that he will ensure that the inflammatory rhetoric and radical proposals that have emanated from some members of the new governing coalition will not define the domestic or foreign policies of the new government.”

Like the US and other Western governments, the AIJAC is concerned about the presence in the new government of leaders of Religious Zionism, among others. One leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is a firebrand West Bank settler and ultranationalist who was a follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose anti-Arab group was labelled a terrorist movement by the US. Once convicted of racism, Mr Ben-Gvir was barred from serving in the Israeli military because of his activism in extremist organisations. He will be the new security tsar with powers over Israel’s police and the West Bank. Bezalel Smotrich, another West Bank settler and ultranationalist proponent of annexation of the Palestinian territories, is an outspoken homophobe who, as finance minister, will control the West Bank’s administration. Others among the ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties that have gone into coalition with Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party are also extreme. Their demands delayed finalisation of the six-party coalition, with Mr Netanyahu forced to ask Mr Herzog for extra time.

Mr Netanyahu’s imperative was to ensure his return to office for a sixth term. But in doing so he must not lose sight of the concerns held by some of Israel’s best friends about the controversial make-up of the coalition. US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides has avoided saying he will work with far-right members of the new government. But he will work with Mr Netanyahu who, as the AIJAC noted, has promised his hands will be firmly on the wheel of government. It would do Israel no good if Mr Netanyahu did otherwise. Amid the deepening existential threat it faces, the Jewish state’s best course, as always, is a sensible two-state solution to the Palestinian problem, and in building a united, democratic Israel able to deal with security and economic challenges. Although the extremists have helped Mr Netanyahu reclaim the prime ministership, their divisiveness and racism are unlikely to help him achieve those goals. As the AIJAC said, Mr Netanyahu, not his controversial coalition partners, must “be the one steering the ship of state”.

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Article source: Australian editorial, 28/12/2022

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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