Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and chief rival sign coalition deal, averting new elections.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival have announced that they have forged a deal to form an “emergency” coalition government, ending the worst political crisis in the country’s history.
The deal on Monday between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and former military chief Benny Gantz’s Blue and White alliance ends months of political paralysis and averts what would have been a fourth consecutive election in just over a year.
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“An agreement for the establishment of a national emergency government is now being signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White [alliance] chairman… Benny Gantz,” the joint statement read.
Official details of the power-sharing deal were not immediately disclosed, but a source in Blue and White said the two had agreed Netanyahu would remain prime minister for a set period until Gantz takes over in October 2021.
Until then, Gantz, a former armed forces chief, will serve as defence minister and several of his political allies, including two members of Israel’s Labour Party, will receive ministerial portfolios as well.
During the negotiations the parties cited a number of sticking points, including the planned annexation of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank where Palestinians seek a state, and setting a nomination process for judges.
Palestinian officials did not immediately comment.
‘We will protect democracy’
Netanyahu, in power consecutively for the past 11 years, is under criminal indictment on corruption charges which he denies. They include bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Gantz on the campaign trail promised not to sit in a government led by a prime minister facing criminal charges, but he recently backtracked, saying the enormity of the coronavirus crisis necessitated an emergency unity government.
“We have prevented a fourth election. We will protect democracy. We will fight coronavirus and care for all Israel’s citizens,” Gantz said on Twitter after signing the deal.
Netanyahu tweeted a picture of Israel’s blue and white flag.
Israel so far has recorded more than 13,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 173 deaths.
After elections on March 2 ended in a stalemate, the two leaders agreed late last month to try to form an “emergency” unity Cabinet to cope with the burgeoning coronavirus crisis.
The talks dragged on and stalled several times since, reportedly over Netanyahu’s personal legal problems, sparking concern that the collapse of a deal would force the country into new elections.
Although Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, repeatedly came up short in the last elections, the coalition agreement returns the leader to the premiership, defying critics who predicted his downfall and restoring his reputation as a political wizard.
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