Israel's Netanyahu seals coalition deals with rightist, religious allies

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JERUSALEM, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu finalised coalition deals with allied parties, their spokespeople said on Wednesday, in final steps toward his political comeback at the head of one of the most right-wing governments in Israel's history.

Netanyahu, whose bloc of nationalist and religious parties won a clear election victory last month, is expected to swear his new government in on Thursday after his Likud party finalises two remaining deals.

But even before starting his record sixth term in office, Netanyahu has sought to quell fears at home and abroad his emerging government will endanger minority rights, harm the judiciary and exacerbate the conflict with the Palestinians.

The coalition deals with pro-settler Religious Zionism and ultra-Orthodox UTJ have yet to be formally published, but leaked clauses, recent legislation and statements by future coalition members over the past few weeks have drawn wide criticism.

Legislation ratified on Tuesday will ultimately enable the pro-settler Religious Zionism party to take up a post of second minister within the Defence Ministry, granting it broad authority over expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank - land Palestinians seek for a state.

U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014 and their revival appears unlikely, with some members of Religious Zionism advocating for the annexation of the West Bank, to which Israel cites Biblical and historical ties.

Further legislation to be brought to a vote on Wednesday, will grant new powers over police for Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the far-right Jewish Power party, as national security minister.

Prospective coalition members' pledges to curb Supreme Court powers, anti-gay statements and calls to allow a business to refuse services to people based on religious grounds, have alarmed liberal Israelis as well as Western allies.

In statements and interviews abroad, Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he will safeguard civil rights, will not allow any harm to the country's Arab minority or to the LGBTQ community and pursue peace.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Tomasz Janowski

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