Israel's Netanyahu pledges liberal-right government, with 'beaches for everyone'

Prime minister-designate says electricity generation will continue on Shabbat

Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to maintain the religious 'status-quo'. AFP
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Benjamin Netanyahu has said the incoming government will be a “liberal-right” administration as he tries to dissuade concerns that his alliance with Ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties is veering to the extreme.

The prime minister-designate said he would maintain the religious “status-quo” following reports on leaked discussions with United Torah Judaism, which has demanded the halting of electricity generation on Shabbat and expanded gender segregation on beaches, among other restrictions.

“There is and will be electricity [production] on Shabbat. There is and will be beaches for everyone. We will maintain the status quo,” Mr Netanyahu said in parliament on Tuesday.

“We will maintain the path of the liberal right-wing.”

While still in the minority, Israel's ultra-Orthodox population is rapidly growing and is expected to make up a quarter of Israeli society by 2050, according to projections from Israel's National Economic Council. Arabs make up 20 per cent.

Although transport and commerce are halted in most cities from dusk on Friday to nightfall on Saturday, some business stay open and transport continues to run in select areas, especially in Arab-majority localities.

Electricity is also still generated but not actively used by observant Jews.

Israeli security forces remove a right-wing activist holding a megaphone and a sign reading in Hebrew "leftists are traitors" during a protest by left-wing activists against the government coalition proposed by prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu near the Knesset on Monday. AFP

Members of Mr Netanyahu's Likud party told Army radio they did not expect the party head would agree to such measures.

Religious groups are a key part of the incoming government and helped to propel the veteran leader — still facing corruption charges — back into the top office after successive failed attempts to win back power.

While concern in Israel focuses on religious reform, international attention is focused on the right-wing nature of the incoming cabinet, set to be one of Israel's most hardline administrations and expected to escalate violence in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

The year 2022 has been the deadliest in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 2005, with 216 Palestinians killed. The army says many of the dead are militants, but stone-throwing youths and others not engaged in confrontation have also been killed, including a 16-year-old girl shot on Monday.

Parts of the West Bank, including Jenin and Nablus, have had almost-daily raids since a wave of attacks by Palestinian militants, which have left 30 Israelis dead.

Mr Netanyahu himself is a staunch opponent to Palestinian statehood and has criticised outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid for his vocal support for a two-state solution.

West Bank settlements were vastly expanded under his previous terms as prime minister.

Also on Tuesday, a Netanyahu ally was temporarily elected as Knesset speaker, paving the way for rapid legislation demanded by coalition partners to be passed.

Yariv Levin is expected to call for quick laws expanding the remit of Israel's public security minister, a position to be held by notorious ultra-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, and clearing the way for Aryeh Deri — previously jailed for bribery — to head three different ministries, the Times of Israel reported.

Updated: December 13, 2022, 12:42 PM