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April 20, 2020 1:14 pm

At Long Last, Gantz and Netanyahu Sign Coalition Deal, Ending Israeli Political Impasse

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avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sign a coalition agreement, ending Israel’s year-long political impasse, April 20, 2020. Photo: Twitter.

After a year of electoral stalemate and weeks of on-and-off negotiations, Israel finally has a government, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz officially signing a coalition agreement on Monday evening.

Israel has been ruled by a caretaker government since last April, as three inconclusive elections made a working coalition impossible. Prompted by the coronavirus crisis, Gantz broke up his centrist Blue and White party earlier this month and agreed in principle to join a coalition with Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, but negotiations remained deadlocked until now.

Israeli news site Walla reported that the coalition agreement established an emergency unity government on the basis of parity, equally dividing 30 ministries between the Likud-led rightist-religious bloc and Blue and White.

In a rotation arrangement, Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for a year-and-a-half, after which Gantz will replace him for another year-and-a-half. During Netanyahu’s term, Gantz will serve as defense minister.

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Blue and White will receive several important ministries, including justice, tourism, strategic affairs, diaspora and agriculture, while Labor party leader Amir Peretz — a Gantz ally — will receive the economy portfolio. Furthermore, Blue and White’s Gabi Ashkenazi is expected to receive either the foreign affairs or education portfolios.

The rightist-religious bloc will receive, among others, the transportation, health, internal security and religious affairs ministries.

Walla reported that some dissension among the rightist-religious bloc was expected due to the small number of ministries available. The Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party Shas will be given only two or three portfolios, while the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism will receive only one. In addition, the right-wing Yamina party has threatened to go to the opposition if it did not receive three ministries, something that appears unlikely.

There are also reports of dissatisfaction within Likud, because the party will ultimately receive only nine ministerial positions, as it has to share its half of the government with the rest of the rightist-religious bloc.

As part of the coalition agreement, Blue and White agreed to drop its support for several Knesset bills targeting Netanyahu, including one that would prevent an MK under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister, which would automatically disqualify Netanyahu.

One of Gantz’s former allies, Telem party leader Moshe Ya’alon, blasted Gantz for the move, saying, “You cannot hold the stick at both ends. Either you are for corruption or you are against it. This is where leadership is measured. Welcome to Netanyahu’s dirty politics and corruption.”

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