Middle East Monitor / November 17, 2022
Right-wing extremists in Israel have told Washington not to interfere in the negotiations for the formation of a new coalition government in the occupation state. The Religious Zionist party took this step following reports that the US is putting pressure on Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to make sure that right-wing extremist Bezalel Smotrich is not appointed as Defence minister.
“The party has a lot of respect and appreciation for our US ally, but the Biden administration should also respect Israeli democracy and not interfere in the establishment of an elected government,” tweeted the far-right party. “A sovereign nation cannot agree to foreign dictates that would endanger Israel’s security and harm Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria [sic].”
According to Israel’s Channel 12, the US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, told Netanyahu during their meeting on Tuesday that appointing the Defence minister should be considered carefully in a manner that takes into consideration the excellent relations between Israel and the US. Nides did not, apparently, mention Religion Zionist party leader Smotrich by name.
Netanyahu’s office confirmed that he had met with Nides, but he denied that this is what the ambassador said to him. “We do not discuss the content of closed diplomatic talks,” added the US Embassy in Israel.
The Likud party leader has 28 days to form a government, which Israeli President Isaac Herzog can extend for another 14 days. If Netanyahu fails to put a coalition together, Herzog will nominate another candidate.
In addition to the Likud’s 32 seats in parliament, the Netanyahu camp includes the Religious Zionist party coalition (14 seats), which also includes the Otzma Yehudit party led by the extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir, and two other religious parties, Shas (11) and United Torah Judaism (7). Netanyahu will thus control 64 seats if he puts a coalition together, giving him a Knesset majority.
Prior to the General Election, Ben-Gvir said that he had asked Netanyahu to give him the internal security portfolio if a right-wing government was formed. If appointed, he intends to change the Israeli occupation army’s rules of engagement regarding the shooting of Palestinians
On previous occasions, he has called for the displacement of the Palestinians from their land and caused an escalation of the tense situation in occupied East Jerusalem by opening a parliamentary office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. He has also led Jewish settlers in many armed incursions at Al-Aqsa Mosque.