Netanyahu Inches Closer to Power with New Parliament Speaker

Israeli Prime Minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu, center, applauds Yariv Levin, off camera, after lawmakers voted to elect Levin as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo)

Israel’s parliament on Tuesday elected a new speaker closely allied to the country’s likely next prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, setting the stage for a flurry of contentious new legislation to appease the former leader’s expected coalition partners.

Lawmaker Yariv Levin’s election as speaker comes as Netanyahu continues negotiations to forge a coalition government after elections were held last month. With his religious and ultranationalist partners, Netanyahu is set to lead what is expected to be Israel’s most right-wing government ever.

Netanyahu’s partners have made demands that critics say give too much power to extremist lawmakers and could imperil the country’s democratic fundamentals, including sweeping reforms to the country’s justice system.

As speaker, Levin, a close Netanyahu confidante, is set to clear the way for votes in the coming days on crucial legislation seen as necessary to make the coalition coalesce.

Among these is a vote to change a law that would pave the way for Netanyahu’s key coalition partner, Aryeh Deri, to become a Cabinet minister. Under the law, Deri is legally barred from doing so because of a conviction on probation this year for tax offenses. Critics say the move bends the rules to accommodate a convict and could encourage corruption among politicians.

Two other pieces of legislation will pave the way for two other likely coalition partners — ultranationalists Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir — to be granted greater powers over the West Bank Jewish settlement enterprise and the police, respectively.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption in a series of scandals involving powerful media moguls and wealthy associates, has been generous toward his political allies because they support major legal reforms that could freeze or dismiss his trial.

Critics say such moves will endanger Israel’s democratic foundations. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party and its ultra-Orthodox and far-right partners captured a majority of seats in the Knesset, or parliament, in Nov. 1 elections, putting them in position to form a new government.

– Tia Goldenberg, AP News

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