Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival have announced a deal to form an emergency government, ending months of political paralysis and averting what would have been a fourth consecutive election in just over a year.
Netanyahu and former military chief Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, signed the agreement after weeks of negotiations for what they termed a “national emergency” government to steer the country through the coronavirus outbreak.
The power-sharing agreement means Netanyahu will almost certainly remain in office for the duration of his upcoming trial on corruption charges.
The deal calls for a three-year period, with Netanyahu serving as prime minister for the first half, and Mr Gantz taking the job for the second half.
Mr Gantz’s party will take control of a number of senior government ministries, including foreign affairs and defence, but Netanyahu’s party will gain influence over judicial appointments — a key demand of the prime minister as he prepares to go on trial.
“I promised the state of Israel a national emergency government that will work to save the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Israel,” he tweeted.
After an inconclusive election on March 2, the two men agreed to try to form a unity government because of the burgeoning coronavirus crisis. The talks dragged on and stalled several times, reportedly over Netanyahu’s personal legal problems, sparking concern that the collapse of a deal would force the country into new elections.
Although Netanyahu repeatedly came up short in the last elections, the coalition agreement returns the long-serving leader to the premiership, defying critics who predicted his downfall and restoring his reputation as a political wizard.
The deal required major compromise by both men. During three bitter campaigns over the past year, Mr Gantz and his party vowed never to serve in a government under Netanyahu as long as he faced a slew of corruption charges.
After more than a decade as prime minister, Netanyahu agreed to step aside and allow Mr Gantz to take the job later in their term – if the coalition manages to survive long enough.
“We prevented a fourth election,” Mr Gantz tweeted. “We will protect democracy. We will battle corona and we will worry about all the citizens of Israel.”
While the government was ostensibly formed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 170 Israelis and ravaged the economy, negotiations revolved largely around Netanyahu’s corruption trial, set to start next month.
Main sticking points included a demand by the prime minister to have more say on judicial appointments, which could play a role if his case eventually reaches the Supreme Court.