Israel: Ben-Gvir set for new Security minister role in Likud coalition deal

Israeli soldiers stop and search Palestinian youths in the village of Haris in the occupied West Bank (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  November 25, 2022

Deal would put far-right leader in charge of expanded Security ministry – but is contingent on other parties joining Netanyahu-led coalition.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has signed its first coalition deal with Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party as it seeks to build a new Israeli government with far-right parties following elections earlier this month.

The agreement, which would only come into effect if Likud reaches similar deals with other parties in order to secure a parliamentary majority in the Knesset, would see Ben-Gvir appointed to the new role of “minister of national security”, with significantly extended powers.

Jewish Power will also receive the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry and the Jewish Heritage Ministry, according to the terms of the deal with Likud.

The Arab48 website said the deal between Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir was likely made to put pressure on Bezalel Smotrich’s far-right party Religious Zionism party, an ally of Ben-Gvir, to give up some of his demands to join the coalition.

“We took a big step tonight toward a full coalition agreement, toward forming a fully, fully right-wing government,” Ben-Gvir, 46, said in the statement.

The new national security ministry will be expanded as part of the deal, to include several enforcement authorities that were previously dispersed between different governmental offices, Haaretz reported.

Among these is the Border Police in the occupied West Bank – a military unit made up of 2,000 soldiers who receive training from the Border Police and whose duties include dealing with disturbances, carrying out arrests and evacuating illegal outposts – which until now was under the authority of the Israeli Army’s Central Command.

A senior law enforcement source expressed concern to Haaretz about the move, saying that it effectively “turns the Border Police into Ben-Gvir’s personal police in the territories”.

In a Facebook post, the former Israeli army chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, called Ben-Gvir’s appointment as national security minister “a sad joke on the backs of the citizens of Israel”. 

Eisenkot described the move as part of “negotiation games in which new titles are made up for political purposes, with no connection to reality or to the country’s needs”. 

Likud and its religious and far-right allies marked a clear victory in Israel’s 1 November election, ending nearly four years of political instability and setting Netanyahu on course for a political comeback as prime minister.

But his efforts to quickly form a government have hit roadblocks as negotiations with coalition partners drag on.

The incoming government looks to be the most right-wing in Israel’s history, forcing Netanyahu into a diplomatic balancing act between his coalition and western allies.

Al-Aqsa Mosque access

Ben-Gvir, a former lawyer who lives in an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank, was the son of secular Iraqi Jewish immigrants.

However, his political ideas were influenced by Meir Kahane, a far-right rabbi, former MP, and founder of the Kach party, which wants to establish a pure Jewish society.

Aged 16, Ben-Gvir joined Kach as an activist before it was designated a terrorist group by the United States and banned in Israel, when in 1994 a Kach member named Baruch Goldstein killed dozens of Palestinian worshippers in the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron.

Last year, Netanyahu said that Ben-Gvir – who until a couple of years ago kept a picture of Goldstein in his house – was not fit to serve as a minister.

Ben-Gvir has made no secret of wanting to deport Palestinians from their lands and homes.

He also wants to expel politicians deemed “disloyal” to Israel, a reference to Knesset members who represent Palestinian citizens of Israel and left-leaning Israeli MPs.

Jewish Power has called for the formal annexation and Jewish settlement of the entire occupied West Bank – in violation of international law – and the seizure of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem to place it under Jewish ownership.

Earlier this month, Israeli media reported that Ben-Gvir had demanded tougher conditions for Palestinian security prisoners, as well as unfettered access for settlers into Al-Aqsa Mosque, during informal coalition talks with Likud.

Far-right extremist gets Israeli security job as coalition deals struck

Reuters  /  November 25, 2022

Appointment of Itamar Ben-Gvir raises fears of further escalation in Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

The far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir will be Israel’s National Security minister under a coalition deal with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, in what is likely to be the most right-wing government in the country’s history.

The agreement comes after the Prime Minister-designate’s alliance won a comfortable victory in this month’s parliamentary election, Israel’s fifth in less than four years.

Netanyahu is still in talks with three other parties on forming his new government.

“We took a big step [last night] towards a full coalition agreement, towards forming a fully, fully right-wing government,” Ben-Gvir said in a statement.

The leader of the Jewish Power party, who was convicted in 2007 of racist incitement against Palestinians and backing a group considered by Israel and the US to be a terrorist organization, will have an expanded security portfolio that will include responsibility for Border Police in the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry said the appointment would have a “potentially catastrophic impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and hinder the revival of negotiations between the two sides.

Mairav Zonszein, a senior Israel analyst at International Crisis Group, said Ben-Gvir’s expanded security portfolio could be a “game-changer” in the West Bank, which is under the effective control of the Israeli military.

“Israel is moving more and more powers that were normally held by the defence ministry or military to civilian ministries,” she said.

Granting Ben-Gvir authority over Border Police in the West Bank “is a form of blurring the boundaries between Israel and the West Bank”, she added.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – areas that Palestinians claim as their state – in the 1967 June War. US-sponsored negotiations stalled in 2014, and the expansion of Israeli settlements has continued despite international opposition.

Hazem Qassem, a spokesperson for the Islamist Hamas group that governs Gaza, said Ben-Gvir’s deal with Netanyahu meant the new Israeli government would be “more fascist and extreme”.

The militant Islamic Jihad group also predicted further tensions.

The agreement, which gives Ben-Gvir a position in Israel’s security cabinet, comes after months of tensions in the West Bank after a deadly army crackdown prompted by a spate of fatal attacks by Palestinian militants in Israel.

It also comes days after a coordinated bombing attack on two bus stops in Jerusalem in which an Israel-Canadian student was killed and at least 14 others were wounded.

Ben-Gvir’s party will also take ministries in charge of development in the Negev and Galilee regions, the heritage ministry, a deputy position in the economy ministry and chairmanship of the Knesset public security committee.

As a settler living in the West Bank, Ben-Gvir has long been a fierce opponent of Palestinian statehood. During the election campaign, he brandished a gun at Palestinian demonstrators in occupied East Jerusalem.

He also supports Jewish prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, a flashpoint site holy to both Muslims and Jews, who know it as the Temple Mount. The site, said to have once housed two ancient Jewish temples, has been the scene of repeated clashes between Muslims and Jewish visitors defying decades-old rules prohibiting prayer by non-Muslims there.

Ben-Gvir, a practising lawyer, champions capital punishment and looser open-fire regulations for soldiers. But as his party has edged towards government, he has moderated some of his earlier positions and says he no longer backs the expulsion of all Palestinians, but only those he deems traitors or terrorists.

His rise prompted the US state department to say this month that Washington expected all officials in the new Israeli government to share the values of an “open, democratic society, including tolerance and respect for all in civil society”.