Israeli MPs approve Netanyahu-Gantz unity government

Israeli lawmakers approved the formation of a unity government between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his former rival Benny Gantz on Thursday, paving the way for the end of more than a year of deadlock.

Parliament voted 71 to 37 to support the coalition agreement which will see right-hander Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, a former centrist military chief, share power.

The two men said they would take the oath in their new administration on May 13, with Netanyahu remaining chief for 18 months, before giving way to Gantz.

The proposed government had been challenged in the High Court, with opponents claiming that Netanyahu was ineligible to govern due to a series of corruption indictments.

They also complained that certain provisions of the coalition agreement had broken the law.

But the court ruled on Wednesday evening “there was no legal reason to prevent the formation of a government” led by Netanyahu.

He added that by approving the coalition, he “was not seeking to lessen the severity of the charges” against Netanyahu, but concluded that these could be dealt with in his trial, which is scheduled to start on May 24.

Netanyahu has been struck off several times by experts and rivals since he came to power in 2009, but the man sometimes nicknamed “the magician” has always found a way to stay in power.

In addition to rebuilding an economy shaken by the coronavirus, the new government will also decide on the possible annexation of large parts of the West Bank, a decision that successive governments have refrained from occupying during the 1967 Six Day War.

Lost year

Israel has not had a stable government since December 2018, the country having had three successive elections in which the blue and white centrist of Gantz and the Likud of Netanyahu were neck and neck.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu remained in power as a guard.

He was also charged with accepting inappropriate gifts and illegally making concessions in exchange for positive media coverage.

He denies any wrongdoing, but if the trial goes as planned, he will become the first Israeli leader in office to be tried.

After the third election in March, Gantz broke off much of his blue and white alliance and agreed to form a unity government.

He said there is a need for political stability as the country seeks to repair the economic damage caused by an epidemic of coronavirus, which has infected more than 16,000 people.

Critics of Gantz, including many former allies, accused him of betraying his constituents after campaigning for a cleaner policy and promising not to serve under an accused prime minister.

While Israeli law prohibits ministers from serving during their indictment, there is no such law for prime ministers.

Lawmakers were due to vote later Thursday to ask President Reuven Rivlin to give Netanyahu a mandate to form a government.

He will then have a short period to conclude weeks of quarrels over the allocation of ministerial posts and finalize his cabinet composition.

Gantz ‘former ally Yair Lapid, ready to become leader of the opposition, criticized what he called excessive concentration on ministerial posts.

“A single mother with two children who lives in a rented apartment and has lost her job will be on the street next month,” said Lapid.

“This is what we should be tackling, not which politician gets which job.”

Annexations in the West Bank?

In the first few months, the government will focus on the COVID-19 response.

The country has taken swift lock-in measures and has managed to limit the death toll so far to just over 200 in a population of around nine million.

In recent days, measures have started to be relaxed, with stores and businesses partially reopening, as well as primary schools.

As of July 1, the government can also decide whether to continue annexing Israeli settlements in the West Bank after President Donald Trump has given the United States the blessing of this decision, which the United Nations claims violates the international law.

It could also annex the Jordan Valley, another part of the territory that Trump says he is ready to recognize as part of Israel.

Each of these measures is likely to trigger Palestinian unrest across the West Bank as well as in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians see the West Bank as the backbone of their future state, and the United Nations has warned that annexation will seriously undermine any hope of lasting peace.