Israeli rivals Netanyahu and Gantz agree to form unity government

The parties of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz on Monday signed an agreement to form an “emergency” coalition government, news wires reported. The deal between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and former military chief Benny Gantz’s Blue and White ends months of political paralysis and averts what would have been a fourth consecutive election in just over a year.

Terms of the agreement weren’t immediately announced. But Israeli media said it called for a three-year period with Netanyahu serving as prime minister for the first half, and Gantz taking the job for the second half.
After the last vote on 2 March ended in a stalemate, Netanyahu and former military chief Benny Gantz agreed late last month to try to form a unity government because of the burgeoning coronavirus crisis. The talks have 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 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 likely required major compromise by both men, AP reported. During three bitter campaigns over the past year, Gantz and his Blue and White party vowed never to serve in a government under Netanyahu so long as he faces a slew of corruption charges. Netanyahu, meanwhile, would likely be forced to step aside and allow Gantz to serve as prime minister for part of the time, if the coalition manages to survive long enough.
On Sunday night, several thousand demonstrators, including Gantz’s former political partner Yair Lapid, gathered in Tel Aviv to protest the expected government deal. Protesters accused Netanyahu of using the coronavirus crisis to shield himself from prosecution and accused Gantz of abandoning his central campaign promises. Netanyahu is awaiting trial on charges of accepting bribes, breach of trust and fraud. He has denied any wrongdoing and portrays himself as a victim of a media and judicial witch hunt. Citing the coronavirus crisis, Netanyahu’s hand-picked justice minister has already delayed the trial by two months by shuttering most of the court system.
Israel has identified more than 13,000 cases of the coronavirus, with 172 deaths. While this week the country began relaxing some of its health restrictions, hundreds of thousands are out of work and the economy has come to a standstill.

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