Netanyahu formally tasked with forming Israel’s new government

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s former prime minister, was on Sunday officially tasked with forming a new government, paving the way for his comeback as the head of what is widely expected to be the most right-wing coalition in the country’s history.

Yet, the 73-year-old veteran politician promised to serve all Israelis, “those who voted for us and those who did not – it is my responsibility”.

“I have decided to assign to you, Benjamin Netanyahu, the task of forming a government,” President Isaac Herzog told him at a ceremony in Jerusalem.

Israel has experienced a period of unprecedented political gridlock that forced five elections in less than four years.

Netanyahu’s Likud party and his ultraorthodox and ultranationalist allies came first in the November 1 elections, ending the short-lived, ideologically diverse government that had removed him last year after 12 consecutive years in power. They received a clear majority in the 120-seat parliament.

Netanyahu, who faces corruption allegations in court, will have at least 28 days to build a coalition with his allies – two ultraorthodox Jewish parties and a rising extreme-right alliance called Religious Zionism.

With the horse trading already under way, he will try to quickly wrap up the negotiations. Key portfolios, including those of the finance and defence ministries, could prove to be a sticking point as they have already been publicly demanded by Religious Zionism’s leaders.

Herzog noted Netanyahu’s ongoing trial: “I am not oblivious, of course, to the fact that there are ongoing legal proceedings against Mr Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, and I do not trivialise this at all.” But he made clear that Netanyahu could serve as premier while contesting the allegations.

Netanyahu’s next moves will be closely scrutinised as unease mounts in some quarters over his policy plans and the goals of his controversial governing partners.

The new government is expected to pass sweeping judicial reforms, a long-held priority of Israel’s right. That could include a so-called “override clause” giving parliament the right to overrule the Supreme Court any time it declares legislation to be illegal. The planned reforms would severely weaken the court.

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