Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is working to cobble together a far-right and religious governing coalition in the 120-seat Knesset.

The new parliament replaces one of the most colourful and diverse in Israel’s history, which had an all-time high of 36 women and a small Arab party in the government coalition for the first time in history.
The new parliament replaces one of the most colourful and diverse in Israel’s history, which had an all-time high of 36 women and a small Arab party in the government coalition for the first time in history. (Reuters)

After nearly four years of political deadlock and five elections, Israel has sworn in the most right-wing parliament in its history.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday appealed for national unity in his speech after the country's five divisive elections, saying Israelis are “exhausted from the infighting and its fallout.”

“Now, the responsibility lies first and foremost with you, the public’s elected representatives,” he said. “Responsibility to try to wean us off this addiction to never-ending conflicts.”

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is working to cobble together a far-right and ultra-Orthodox governing coalition in the 120-seat parliament, or Knesset. Left-leaning parties – long the champions of negotiations with the Palestinians – suffered major losses in the November 1 election.

The surging popularity of a right-wing alliance once on the fringes of Israeli society helped propel Netanyahu's political comeback. Lawmakers burst into applause as Netanyahu took the stage for a photo with other party leaders after the ceremony.

READ MORE: Israel's Netanyahu tapped to form government

Rights of minorities

Herzog also called on the elected representatives to safeguard the rights of Israel's minorities who fear the next government coalition will roll back the achievements of its predecessor on issues like the environment and funding for the Arab population.

“There are also communities, and especially minorities, who are fearful that their needs will not be on the agenda,” he said. “You, the public’s elected representatives, must give this your consideration and keep them in your sights, too.”

In his speech after the swearing-in, Israel's caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid was blunt.

“We need this house to be a place that Israelis look up to," he said, “not a place they are ashamed of and ashamed of its representatives.”

Division of powers

Religious Zionism has proposed a plan to limit the powers of Israel’s judiciary, which the party accuses of unfairly favouring the political left. In an apparent reference to the suggested overhaul, Herzog reminded the parliament of the importance of Israel's checks and balances.

“It is allowed, and sometimes even required, to reopen for debate the division of powers,” he said. “But we must do so through listening, through open dialogue, through respectful discourse – and fairly.”

The number of Arab lawmakers has plummeted to its lowest level in two decades, the Israel Democracy Institute reported, with just 10 Arab parliament members out of 120. 

Balad, a Palestinian nationalist party, failed to make it into parliament, partly a result of low voter turnout among Israel’s Arab minority.

Meretz, a left-wing party that supports two-state solution, also dropped out of parliament entirely. In his speech, Herzog said the party “will be missed." 

The Labor Party, which ruled Israel in its first three decades, barely scraped into parliament with just four seats.

READ MORE:Five things to know about Netanyahu’s electoral comeback

Source: AP