UPDATE – Israel’s new government to be sworn in, following parliament’s approval

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  • New government has nationalist, religious parties
  • Netanyahu has pledged to pursue regional peace
  • Cabinet darkens bleak outlook for Palestinian state
  • Violence surged in West Bank in 2022

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM, Dec 29 (Reuters) – Israel’s new government led by Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday secured a vote of confirmation in parliament ahead of its official swearing in.

Netanyahu’s government received 63 of 120 possible votes in parliament, the speaker of parliament said.

The hard-right Israeli government that aims to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and pursue other policies that have stoked criticism at home and abroad was being sworn in on Thursday, cementing Benjamin Netanyahu’s comeback as premier.

The veteran leader, 73 and on trial for graft charges he denies, has sought to calm concerns about the fate of civil rights and diplomacy since his bloc of nationalist and religious parties secured a parliamentary majority in a Nov. 1 election.

His alliance with the Religious Zionism and Jewish Power parties has stirred unease given their opposition to Palestinian statehood and the past agitation by some members against Israel’s justice system, its Arab minority and LGBT rights.

Netanyahu has repeatedly pledged to promote tolerance and pursue peace, in a bid to fend off criticism of his coalition.

“We will establish a stable government for a full term that will take care of all Israel’s citizens,” he said on Wednesday.

For Palestinians, Netanyahu’s line-up has darkened an already bleak outlook. After a year in which violence has surged across the West Bank, Jewish settlements are now set to expand on land on which Palestinians hoped to build a future state.

Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party said in its guidelines for the new government that it would “promote and develop settlement” in areas including the West Bank, a region over which it says “the Jewish people has an exclusive and unassailable right”.

Most world powers deem the settlements illegal for taking up land captured in war and where the Palestinians seek a state. 

“These guidelines constitute a dangerous escalation and will have repercussions for the region,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said.

Netanyahu, now entering a record sixth term as Israeli leader, appears to have stopped short for now of seeking the annexation of West Bank land, a policy he had previously sought and which would have pleased his settler base.

This year saw the worst West Bank violence since 2015 as Israeli forces cracked down on Palestinian unrest and militant attacks, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday bemoaned what he called “the establishment of an Israeli government whose motto is extremism and apartheid”.

On wider diplomatic circles, Netanyahu has said he hopes for a breakthrough in forming diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia as he did in 2020 with other Gulf states that share Israel’s concerns about Iran.

Riyadh has signalled no change in its position that any progress with Israel was contingent on Palestinian statehood.

Netanyahu’s appointments include appointing Itamar Ben-Gvir, a West Bank settler convicted in 2007 of incitement against Arabs and support for a Jewish militant group, as minister for police. Ben-Gvir, a lawyer, says his views have become more moderate.

Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, whose role is largely ceremonial, warned on Sunday against causing potential harm to individuals’ rights. Israeli businesses have decried calls to revise the country’s anti-discrimination law.

Netanyahu was previously prime minister for three years in the 1990s and then from 2009-2021, albeit at times heading a caretaker government ahead of elections.

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Howard Goller and Edmund Blair)

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