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May 14, 2020 9:44 am

Netanyahu Officially Announces Formation of New Government

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting, in the Jordan Valley, on Sept. 15, 2019. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL. – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu officially announced on Wednesday evening that he had succeeded in forming a new government, 18 months after the first of three rounds of Knesset elections was held.

Netanyahu sent letters to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, who will assume the role of defense minister and vice premier when the government is sworn in on Thursday night. According to the terms of the coalition agreement signed by Gantz and Netanyahu last month, Gantz will take over the premiership in a year and a half, at which time Netanyahu will become vice prime minister.

Outgoing Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, a longtime Netanyahu loyalist and confidante, is slated to be approved as Knesset Speaker on Thursday evening at a special plenum held for the purpose. Levin will replace Gantz, who temporarily occupied the position until submitting his resignation on Tuesday, ahead of the scheduled swearing-in of the new government. The ceremony could be postponed if Netanyahu and Gantz do not finalize their ministerial appointments in time.

The parties that have joined the coalition are the Likud, headed by Netanyahu; Blue and White, led by Gantz; Shas, led by Aryeh Deri; United Torah Judaism, led by outgoing Health Minister Yaakov Litzman; Labor, under chairman Amir Peretz; Derech Eretz, led by Yoaz Hendel and Tzvi Hauser; and Gesher, headed by Orly Levy-Abekasis.

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Last-ditch efforts to persuade Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party to join failed. Outgoing Defense Minister Bennett, whose ideology is similar to that of Netanyahu’s but who has had strained relations with him for years, announced that he would become a member of the opposition. Outgoing Education Minister Rafi Peretz—who heads Yamina’s Jewish Home faction—announced on Thursday morning that he was splitting from Bennett’s party in order to join the new government. He accepted Netanyahu’s offer to become minister for Jerusalem affairs and national projects.

The 35th government will be the largest in Israeli history, with 34 ministers. According to its guidelines, released Wednesday, it will focus on economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and on healing the country’s social rifts.

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