Far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir will become Israel’s national security minister under a coalition deal with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in what is likely to become the most right-wing government in the country’s history.
The deal comes after the prime ministerial candidate’s alliance won a comfortable victory in this month’s parliamentary elections, Israel’s fifth in less than four years.
Netanyahu is still in talks with three other parties about the formation of his new government.
“We have taken a big step [last night] to a full coalition agreement, to the formation of a full, all-right government,” Ben-Gvir said in a statement.
The leader of the Jewish Power Party, who was convicted in 2007 of racist incitement against Arabs and supporting a group considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the US, will be given an expanded security portfolio, including responsibility for border police in the occupied areas. West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry said the appointment would have a “potentially catastrophic impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and hinder the revival of negotiations between the two sides.
Mairav Zonszein, a senior Israel analyst with International Crisis Group, said Ben-Gvir’s extensive security portfolio could be a “game changer” in the West Bank, which is under effective control of the Israeli military.
“Israel is increasingly shifting powers that were normally held by the defense ministry or the military to civilian ministries,” she said.
Giving Ben-Gvir authority over the border police in the West Bank “is a form of blurring the borders between Israel and the West Bank,” she added.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem—areas the Palestinians claim as their state—in the 1967 Six-Day War. U.S.-sponsored negotiations stalled in 2014, and Israeli settlement expansion continued despite international opposition.
Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the Islamist Hamas group that rules Gaza, said Ben-Gvir’s deal with Netanyahu meant the new Israeli government would be “more fascist and more extreme”.
The militant Islamic Jihad group also predicted further tensions.
The deal, which gives Ben-Gvir a position in Israel’s security cabinet, comes after months of tension in the West Bank following a deadly military crackdown following a spate of deadly attacks by Palestinian militants in Israel.
It also comes days after a coordinated bombing of two bus stops in Jerusalem that killed an Israeli-Canadian student and injured at least 14 others.
Ben-Gvir’s party will also take on ministries responsible for development in the Negev and Galilee regions, the ministry of heritage, a deputy position in the economy ministry and the chairmanship of the Knesset’s public security committee.
As a settler living in the West Bank, Ben-Gvir has long been a staunch opponent of the Palestinian state. During the election campaign, he brandished a gun at Palestinian demonstrators in occupied East Jerusalem.
He also supports Jewish prayer at the al-Aqsa Mosque complex, a focal point sacred to both Muslims and Jews, who know it as the Temple Mount. The site, which is said to have once housed two ancient Jewish temples, has been the scene of repeated clashes between Muslims and Jewish visitors who defied decades-old rules that prohibit praying by non-Muslims there.
Ben-Gvir, a practicing lawyer, advocates the death penalty and looser open-fire rules for soldiers. But with his party leaning towards the government, he has tempered some of his earlier positions and says he no longer supports the expulsion of all Palestinians, but only those he considers traitors or terrorists.
His emergence led the US State Department to say this month that Washington expected all officials in the new Israeli administration to share the values of an “open, democratic society, including tolerance and respect for all in civil society.”