JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel officially has a government after three divisive elections and 17 months of political chaos.
The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, on Sunday passed a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s power-sharing deal with former military chief Benny Gantz.
Gantz and Netanyahu battled each other in three inconclusive elections until announcing last month they are putting aside their rivalry to form an “emergency” government to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
This new government is the most bloated in Israel’s history with an expected 36 cabinet members and 16 deputies.
According to the power-sharing government deal, Netanyahu will continue serving as prime minister for the next 18 months before being replaced by Gantz for another 18 months. While Netanyahu serves as prime minister, Gantz will be considered the “alternate” prime minister and will also be defense minister.
The former rivals will have a similar number of ministers and veto power over most of each other’s decisions.
Netanyahu said in his speech to parliament that compromises had to be made to avoid a fourth election and continue the more than a year-long political stalemate.
“The public wants a unity government and this is what the public is getting today,” he said. “We chose to serve the country together.”
It was important for Netanyahu to continue serving as prime minister because it would allow him to keep his office while fighting the corruption charges against him.
According to Israeli law, prime ministers do not have to resign from office after being charged with a crime, unlike other political leaders.
Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, breach of trust, and fraud in three separate corruption cases.
His trial begins on May 24. Netanyahu denies all wrongdoing and claims he is the victim of a witch hunt.
The timing of the government deal is also important to Netanyahu in his effort to annex Jewish communities in the West Bank – Israel’s biblical heartland.
Netanyahu and supporters want the controversial annexation completed by the US November election – after which Trump could be replaced by Joe Biden, who opposes the unilateral move.
The government deal allows Netanyahu to present an annexation plan as early as July 1.
“The time has come for anyone who believes in the justness of our rights in the land of Israel to join a government led by me to bring about a historic process together,” Netanyahu said.
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