Inauguration for Israel unity government postponed over cabinet picks

The planned inauguration of an Israeli unity government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday has been postponed to Sunday, a statement said in a last-minute quarrel over cabinet appointments.

As part of a coalition agreement with his former electoral rival, centrist Benny Gantz, Netanyahu will serve as Prime Minister for 18 months before the former head of the armed forces replaces him.

Their power-sharing deal ends more than a year of political stalemate in which three inconclusive elections were held, and Netanyahu has been charged in three criminal cases for corruption, which he denies.

Gantz agreed to delay the government swearing-in ceremony to give Netanyahu more time to assign ministerial posts to members of his Likud party, according to a joint statement.

Their pact divided the centrist party of Gantz, Blue and White. He cited the coronavirus crisis as a main reason for backing up campaign promises not to associate with a Prime Minister in a cloud of corruption.

The unity deal would leave Netanyahu in power during a trial scheduled to begin on May 24, the first such proceeding against an incumbent Israeli Prime Minister, allowing him to maintain a powerful public pulpit to combat this which he called a political witch hunt.

It also paves the way for right-wing Netanyahu to move forward with a promised de facto annexation of occupied West Bank territory – land the Palestinians seek for a state that Israel captured during the Middle East War from 1967.

Netanyahu has set July 1 as the starting point for cabinet talks on his plans to extend Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. He gave no deadline for the implementation of the move.

The annexation, strongly opposed by the Palestinians who called for international sanctions against the Israeli response, would not fail to worsen tensions in the West Bank and Gaza that could ignite violence and spark international outrage.

On Wednesday, during an eight-hour visit to Israel, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with the newspaper IsraelHayom that the territorial measures in the West Bank were an Israeli decision that Netanyahu had the right to take.

Pompeo noted, however, that the issue was complex and required coordination with Washington, which has formed a joint team with Israel to draw new territorial lines in the West Bank as part of a Middle East peace plan announced by the President. Donald Trump in January.

The proposal contemplates that the vast majority of West Bank settlements will be incorporated into “contiguous Israeli territory”.