Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party has signed its first coalition deal with the far-right Jewish Power party, giving ultranationalist leader Itamar Ben-Gvir the police ministry and a seat in the security cabinet.
“We took a big step tonight toward a full coalition agreement, toward forming a fully, fully right-wing government,” Ben-Gvir said in a statement on Friday.
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Netanyahu’s Likud and its religious and far-right allies won a clear victory in Israel’s November 1 election, appearing to end nearly four years of political instability.
The agreement does not account for a full and final new government, as negotiations with coalition partners drag on. But it shows slow and steady progress towards the formation of a government that looks set to be the most right wing in Israel’s history.
Under the terms of the deal, Ben-Gvir – who until last year was best known as a fringe Palestinian-hating religious far-right provocateur – will take up the newly created role of national security minister.
He will also have control over the Israel Border Police’s division in the occupied West Bank, which currently falls under the defence ministry, the Times of Israel reported.
Additionally, he will take up several newly formed portfolios and roles, including one related to the development of the Naqab (Negev) desert, another as the deputy minister in the Ministry of Economy, and the chair of the Public Security Committee of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset.
The deal also includes an agreement to establish a national guard and expand reserve troop mobilisation in the Border Police, the Israeli newspaper reported.
There will also be a relaxation of laws around the southern border to permit opening fire against “thieves caught stealing weapons from military bases”.
It was not immediately clear what the effect of the legislative change would be, given that soldiers were already given more leeway to open fire last year.
Ben-Gvir’s record includes a 2007 conviction for racist incitement against Arabs and support for terrorism, as well as anti-LGBTQ activism.
He says he no longer advocates the expulsion of all Palestinians – only those he deems “traitors” or “terrorists”.
An illegal settler living in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967, Ben-Gvir is opposed to Palestinian statehood.
He also supports Jewish prayer in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, going against the established status quo of the site, and traditional Orthodox Jewish opposition to prayer there.
The increased presence of far-right Jews attempting to pray at the site, protected by Israeli forces, has incensed Palestinians and led to violent confrontations.
The inclusion of far-right figures in the coalition government has worried Israel’s Western allies, according to Israeli President Isaac Herzog, whose words were caught by a microphone he apparently thought was off.
Since winning a Knesset seat, Ben-Gvir has pulled a gun on Palestinian parking attendants in Tel Aviv – over which he was interrogated by police – and got into a dispute with legislator Ayman Odeh, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, when Odeh blocked him from the hospital room of a Palestinian prisoner on a hunger strike.
Last month, Ben-Gvir went to the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Israeli authorities are attempting to evict Palestinian families, with a group of settlers who slashed Palestinians’ car tyres and tried to storm one family’s home.
When Palestinians responded by throwing stones, he pulled out a gun, despite the police presence at the scene.
Ben-Gvir claims Israeli police officers’ and soldiers’ hands are tied and he wants to loosen the rules to allow them to shoot at Palestinians who throw stones – but not Jewish people who do the same.