The most religious and toughest government in Israel’s history is about to come into being. Benjamin Netanyahu is set to return as prime minister after his Likud party formed a coalition with ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies. There are national and international concerns that it will further conflict with the Palestinian people, undermine justice, and limit the rights of minorities. Netanyahu called for peace and promised to defend civil rights. At a special session of the Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem on Thursday, he said his government would “restore the sovereignty, peace, and personal security of the citizens of Israel.” “I hear the opposition’s constant laments about ‘the end of the state’, ‘the end of democracy’, members of the opposition, losing the elections is not the end of democracy – this is the essence of democracy.”
Several hundred protesters gathered outside, waving Israeli flags, rainbow flags bearing the Star of David, and signs reading “shame”, “danger” and “down with racism”.This will be a record sixth term as prime minister for Mr. Netanyahu, who was ousted by his opponents 18 months ago, but his coalition partners are pledging to lead the country in a new direction. They have promised to give parliament powers to overrule the Supreme Court, made anti-LGBTQ statements and called for businesses to be allowed to refuse services to people based on religious grounds. The first guiding principle of the new government, published on Wednesday, declares that “the Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the land of Israel”. It says that includes the occupied West Bank and promises to “advance and develop” settlements there. About 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. Israel denies this, but most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law.
There are also about 100 outposts (small settlements built without Israeli government approval) in the West Bank. Netanyahu agreed to retroactively legalize outposts in a coalition deal he signed last week with the ultranationalist religious Zionist party. Israel has promised to annex the West Bank by “balancing national and international interests.” Such a move would be opposed by Israel’s western and Arab allies. Netanyahu’s coalition partners reject the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is an internationally-backed peace formula envisioning an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank alongside Israel, with a common capital in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, activists, doctors, and business leaders say discrimination against LGBTQ people could be legalized if antidiscrimination laws were amended to allow private companies to refuse service if they violated a provider’s religious beliefs. It warns that there is