PM-designate Benjamin Netanyahu strikes coalition deal with Religious Zionism party, bringing him nearer to shaping what could be the Mideast country's most extreme-right government ever.

Netanyahu still needs to bring two ultra-Orthodox parties into his future government to secure a majority.
Netanyahu still needs to bring two ultra-Orthodox parties into his future government to secure a majority. (AP Archive)

Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a coalition deal with the far-right Religious Zionism party, bringing him closer to securing a new government after an election last month, Netanyahu's Likud party said.

Religious Zionism will be given control of the Finance Ministry as part of a rotation, Likud said on Thursday, though it did not lay out how the rotation would work. 

It will also have strong influence over policies in the Israel-occupied West Bank and the country's justice system.

The deal nets Netanyahu control of 46 of the Knesset's 120 seats so far.

Israel's Army Radio reported that Bezalel Smotrich, 42, who heads Religious Zionism, would serve as finance minister at the outset and will then be replaced.

His party — which backs illegal occupation of Palestine's lands and supports extending Israeli sovereignty into the occupied West Bank — will be given authority over illegal Jewish settlement activity there, though it will be in coordination with Netanyahu, the Likud statement said.

"This is another significant step bringing us closer to forming a right-wing, nationalist government that will look out for all Israeli citizens," Netanyahu said.

After topping the polls last month, veteran hawk Netanyahu signed agreements with two other extreme-right factions, the six-member Jewish Power and one-man Noam.

With 32 members of Netanyahu's Likud party and seven Religious Zionism lawmakers in Israel's 120-seat parliament, Netanyahu still needs to bring two ultra-Orthodox parties into his future government to secure a majority.

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Powers over police in Israel, occupied West Bank

The agreement comes after Netanyahu's right-wing alliance won a comfortable victory in a November 1 election, Israel's fifth in less than four years.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in a 1967 war. US-sponsored negotiations stalled in 2014 but the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements has continued despite international opposition.

An estimated 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank in communities considered illegal under international law, alongside some 2.9 million Palestinians.

Smotrich is more known for his nationalistic politics than his economic views. He ran together with far-right ally Itamar Ben-Gvir, though they now head separate factions in Knesset.

Ben-Gvir is already signed up with Netanyahu after being promised the National Security Ministry, a newly created portfolio with powers over police in Israel and the occupied West Bank.

Smotrich served briefly in a previous Netanyahu-led government as transportation minister from 2019-2020. 

He advocates conservative fiscal policies like lowering the debt-to-GDP ratio, favors a universal tax decrease on businesses and hopes to rein in public sector strikes.

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Source: Reuters