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Israel: Ben-Gvir set for new security minister role in Likud coalition deal

Deal would put far-right leader in charge of expanded security ministry - but is contingent on other parties joining Netanyahu-led coalition
Ben-Gvir, a former lawyer who lives in an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank, was the son of secular Iraqi Jewish immigrants (AFP)

Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party has signed its first coalition deal with Itamar Ben-Gvir's Jewish Power party as it seeks to build a new Israeli government with far-right parties following elections earlier this month.

The agreement, which would only come into effect if Likud reaches similar deals with other parties in order to secure a parliamentary majority in the Knesset, would see Ben-Gvir appointed to the new role of "minister of national security", with significantly extended powers.

Jewish Power will also receive the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry and the Jewish Heritage Ministry, according to the terms of the deal with Likud.

The Arab48 website said the deal between Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir was likely made to put pressure on Bezalel Smotrich's far-right party Religious Zionism party, an ally of Ben-Gvir, to give up some of his demands to join the coalition.

"We took a big step tonight toward a full coalition agreement, toward forming a fully, fully right-wing government," Ben-Gvir, 46, said in the statement.

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The new national security ministry will be expanded as part of the deal, to include several enforcement authorities that were previously dispersed between different governmental offices, Haaretz reported.

Among these is the Border Police in the occupied West Bank - a military unit made up of 2,000 soldiers who receive training from the Border Police and whose duties include dealing with disturbances, carrying out arrests and evacuating illegal outposts - which until now was under the authority of the Israeli Army's Central Command.

A senior law enforcement source expressed concern to Haaretz about the move, saying that it effectively "turns the Border Police into Ben-Gvir's personal police in the territories".

In a Facebook post, the former Israeli army chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, called Ben-Gvir's appointment as national security minister "a sad joke on the backs of the citizens of Israel". 

Eisenkot described the move as part of "negotiation games in which new titles are made up for political purposes, with no connection to reality or to the country's needs". 

Likud and its religious and far-right allies marked a clear victory in Israel's 1 November election, ending nearly four years of political instability and setting Netanyahu on course for a political comeback as prime minister.

But his efforts to quickly form a government have hit roadblocks as negotiations with coalition partners drag on.

The incoming government looks to be the most right-wing in Israel's history, forcing Netanyahu into a diplomatic balancing act between his coalition and western allies.

Al-Aqsa Mosque access

Ben-Gvir, a former lawyer who lives in an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank, was the son of secular Iraqi Jewish immigrants.

However, his political ideas were influenced by Meir Kahane, a far-right rabbi, former MP, and founder of the Kach party, which wants to establish a pure Jewish society.

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Aged 16, Ben-Gvir joined Kach as an activist before it was designated a terrorist group by the United States and banned in Israel, when in 1994 a Kach member named Baruch Goldstein killed dozens of Palestinian worshippers in the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron.

Last year, Netanyahu said that Ben-Gvir - who until a couple of years ago kept a picture of Goldstein in his house - was not fit to serve as a minister.

Ben-Gvir has made no secret of wanting to deport Palestinians from their lands and homes.

He also wants to expel politicians deemed "disloyal" to Israel, a reference to Knesset members who represent Palestinian citizens of Israel and left-leaning Israeli MPs.

Jewish Power has called for the formal annexation and Jewish settlement of the entire occupied West Bank - in violation of international law - and the seizure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem to place it under Jewish ownership.

Earlier this month, Israeli media reported that Ben-Gvir had demanded tougher conditions for Palestinian security prisoners, as well as unfettered access for settlers into Al-Aqsa Mosque, during informal coalition talks with Likud.

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