Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will receive an official mandate Sunday to form a government that could be the most right-wing in the country’s history, sparking concern at home and abroad.
After a period of unprecedented political gridlock that forced five elections in less than four years, polls on November 1 gave the veteran leader and his far-right allies a clear majority in the 120-seat parliament, likely sealing Netanyahu’s return to power.
Sixty-four lawmakers recommended that President Isaac Herzog appoint Netanyahu to form a government, a presidency statement said Friday, following several days of consultations.
The former premier has been summoned “to accept the task of forming the government from the president on Sunday”, it added.
He will have 28 days to form a cabinet, with a 14-day extension available if required.
Netanyahu led Israel from 1996 to 1999 and then again from 2009 to 2021 in a record tenure in office.
His right-wing Likud party and its allies — two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and the extreme-right Religious Zionism bloc — won 64 seats in the Knesset, enabling Netanyahu to form a stable governing coalition.
The 73-year-old remains on trial over corruption allegations, which he denies.
The presidency statement said 28 lawmakers had instead recommended Herzog tap Netanyahu’s centrist rival, outgoing premier Yair Lapid.
Four parties — including Mansour Abbas’s Arab-led Islamist Raam, which made history by supporting Lapid’s coalition government last year — refused to recommend any candidate.
Netanyahu will likely have to juggle demands from his extreme-right allies for policy commitments and cabinet posts, but is not expected to face insurmountable challenges during the coalition negotiations.
Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, co-leaders of the Religious Zionism bloc, have publicly demanded control of two key ministries — public security and defence.
Ben-Gvir, a firebrand known for anti-Arab rhetoric and incendiary calls for Israel to annex the entire West Bank, has repeatedly urged for the security services to use more force in countering Palestinian unrest.
Violence has soared between Israel and the Palestinians, and recent months have been the deadliest period in years in the Israeli-occupied West Bank according to the United Nations, with near daily army raids and an increase in clashes and attacks on Israeli forces.
The electoral success of Religious Zionism has raised fears among its political opponents and Arab-Israelis, who for years have been at the receiving end of Ben-Gvir’s vitriol.
The US on Thursday labelled Ben-Gvir “repugnant” after he appeared at a memorial event for a Jewish extremist.
Herzog, whose role is largely symbolic, was reported to have tried to convince Lapid and his defense minister Benny Gantz to form a unity cabinet with Netanyahu, in order to keep Ben-Gvir from entering government.
The presidency publicly denied the claims.
But Herzog was caught sending a warning about Ben-Gvir.
“You have a partner who the entire world around us is worried about,” he said this week following a meeting with ultra-Orthodox leaders, apparently unaware his microphone was switched on.
He also told Ben-Gvir Thursday that “there is a certain image of you and your party which seems, and I’ll say it in all honesty, worrying in many regards.”
He said he had received “questions from Israeli citizens and world leaders… very sensitive questions on human rights”.
Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party — which was invigorated after winning 11 seats — is also expected to play a major role in the government, with his eyes on either the interior or finance ministries, according to Israeli media.
Deri was convicted of tax evasion in 2021, and was previously jailed for fraud.
The new administration is expected to make judicial reform a key priority, as it moves to redress what it has condemned as an activist, leftist agenda of Israeli judges.