Israel swears in new parliament as Netanyahu readies govt

Israel swears in its new parliament on Tuesday, as veteran hawk Benjamin Netanyahu advances talks with allies on forming a coalition which could be the most right-wing in Israeli history.

Of the 120 lawmakers elected on November 1, 64 have endorsed Netanyahu to lead the next government, clearing the way for his promised comeback after just 14 months in opposition.

The majority secured by Netanyahu's Likud and its allies -- two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and the rising far-right Religious Zionism alliance -- was expected to usher in a stable government, ending an unprecedented period of political gridlock that saw five elections in less than four years.

While the new parliament will be sworn in later Tuesday, Netanyahu's coalition talks may grind on for days or even weeks, despite the broad ideological consensus within the bloc supporting his premiership.

Frictions have emerged with different leaders jockeying for cabinet jobs, as is common following Israeli elections.

But Netanyahu is facing particularly complex negotiations this time with the co-leaders of the far-right, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, in a position to demand key ministerial roles.

Ben-Gvir is the leader of the Jewish Power party who, in his youth, was charged more than 50 times with violence or hate speech. More recently, he has chastised Israel's security services for not using enough force to counter Palestinian unrest.

He has also called for Israel to annex the entire occupied West Bank and, before the election, told AFP he "will not apologise" for previous calls to expel all Arabs from the country, even if his views have shifted.

Ben-Gvir has said he wants to be public security minister, a portfolio that would put him in charge of the police.

Smotrich was transport minister in a previous Netanyahu government but, following Religious Zionism's strong election showing, is now demanding finance or defence.

According to Israeli media, US President Joe Biden's administration has urged Netanyahu to name defence and security ministers that Washington can work with -- widely interpreted as a warning not to appoint Ben-Gvir or Smotrich.

Outgoing Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman told public broadcaster Kan on Tuesday that he had been informed by "friends in Washington" that the US would not work with Religious Zionism's leaders.

Netanyahu's Likud party declined to comment when asked by AFP if the prime minister-designate had received such warnings from Washington about his cabinet choices.

- Hello with a hand gun -

Netanyahu, a 73-year-old on trial on corruption charges he denies, was tapped to form a government by President Isaac Herzog on Sunday.

Commenting on the widespread unease surrounding his likely coalition partners, Netanyahu chastised those he said were seeking to "prophesy catastrophe and scare the public".

"It's not the first time we have heard this kind of talk," he said, referring to past spells in power but without specifying which. "It was wrong then and it is still wrong today."

Netanyahu's wife Sarah met at a five-star Jerusalem hotel on Monday with the wives of the party leaders expected to be in the coalition.

Ben-Gvir's wife Ayala brought a hand gun to the meeting at the Waldolf Astoria and left it secured to her waist for a group photo. A Ben-Gvir spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the picture to AFP.

The picture caused a storm in Israeli media. Ayala Ben-Gvir said in a Facebook post that she needed the weapon because, among other reasons, her husband "is the most threatened man in the country."

bur/bs/kir