Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz have finalized a deal to form a unity government on Monday evening, ending over a year of political impasse which saw three inconclusive elections and a fourth looming.
A joint statement from Likud and Blue and White said the agreement was to form a “national emergency government.”
Netanyahu and Gantz were expected to make statements later in the evening, but contrary to earlier reports that they had already signed, the deal will not be formally inked until after Independence Day. No reason was given so far for the delay.
Netanyahu was reportedly on the phone with Yamina leaders and would meet with them after Holocaust Remembrance Day on Tuesday.
Yamina was expected to stay out of the coalition for the time being, angry over some of the concessions to Gantz, according to The Times of Israel.
According to a published text of the agreement which runs 14 pages, Netanyahu will serve for 16 months as prime minister with Gantz as vice prime minister. Then Gantz will automatically take over as full prime minister.
The agreement stipulates that from July 1, 2020, Netanyahu “will be able to bring the agreement reached with the U.S. on the application of sovereignty for the approval of the cabinet and or the Knesset.”
“The law will be passed as quickly as possible… and will not be disrupted or delayed by the chairmen of either the House or the Foreign Affairs and Defense committees,” it says.
In the event that Netanyahu is prevented by legislation or the High Court from forming a government due to the indictments against him, Gantz will not take over as prime minister; rather, the country will go to elections.
Blue and White will receive 16 ministries—one more than their number of MKs—including Defense, Foreign Affairs (during Gantz’s turn in the rotating premiership), Education, Interior, Housing, Religious Affairs, Yerushalayim Affairs, and Domestic Security.
Of the senior portfolios Likud will retain only Finance. The Health Ministry will also be Likud’s, which presumably means that Rabbi Yaakov Litzman will stay on at that post. The key Knesset Finance Committee will also remain Likud’s, and United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni is expected to continue as its chairman.
The agreement does not say how Netanyahu will placate ministers who must now give up their jobs to a party less than a third the size of the right-wing bloc. However, an expanded cabinet of 34 ministers will undoubtedly help the medicine go down.
Although the published agreement does not name the incoming ministers, Gantz was expected to take Defense, Finance would go to Yisrael Katz (Likud), Gabi Ashkenazi will be tapped for Foreign Minister (Blue and White), the contentious post of Justice Minister will to Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White), Labor chairman Amir Peretz will get Labor, Knesset Speaker will be Yariv Levin (Likud), according to The Times of Israel.
It was also as yet not clear how the issue of judicial appointments, which was said to be a major sticking point, will be resolved, but according to Channel 12, Netanyahu was supposed to be getting his way on that and on annexations of Yehuda and Shomron.
A source in Blue and White was quoted in a media briefing on Monday night ticking off the party’s “achievements” under the deal:
The establishment of a “coronavirus cabinet” led jointly by Netanyahu and Gantz to “outline the state’s exit strategy from the crisis restore the economy, care for the self-employed, and prepare the healthcare system for challenges ahead.”
Blue and White will wield a veto on any piece of legislation or government decision.
Gantz will receive the status of prime minister from the moment the deal is signed, even while he serves as deputy to Netanyahu for the first year and a half.
Likud promised that Yuli Edelstein, who thwarted attempts to convene anti-Netanyahu committees would not return to the post of Knesset Speaker.
If Netanyahu should at some point dissolve the Knesset, Gantz will immediately take office and elections will not be held for six months.
The official did not mention a clause providing for a special residence for the deputy prime minister, which both sides disavowed when it was reported as part of a draft text. At the time, Gantz said he would spend the first 16 months in his home in Rosh HaAyin. He had not commented on the matter as of Monday night.
In a surprise statement, United Torah Judaism, said that Gantz called UTJ MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni to thank him for the “tremendous behind-the-scenes contribution to the establishment of the unity government.”
The two agreed to cooperate in a government “set up for the benefit of Israeli citizens,” the statement adds.
In the countless news stories on the negotiations, Rabbi Gafni’s name was rarely, if ever, mentioned at all.
Gantz’s erstwhile political ally Yair Lapid was quick to denounce the deal:
“So the compromise on the Judicial Appointments Committee is that Bibi [Netanyahu] chose all its representatives. Gantz and [Blue and White MK Gabi] Ashkenazi agreed to allow the criminal defendant to appoint the judges that will adjudicate his affairs.”
Joint Arab List Chairman MK Ayman Odeh, whose party was for months touted as the prop for a Gantz-led minority government, on Monday said that “Gantz and Netanyahu’s surrender government is a slap in the face of the civilian majority who repeatedly went to the polls to oust Netanyahu. Gantz wasn’t brave enough to win and chose to legitimize annexation, racism, and corruption.”
Meretz Chairman MK Nitzan Horowitz complained: “Bibi and Gantz’s gift to Israeli citizens in the huge economic crisis: The largest government in the history of the country.
“34 ministers (and other deputies) are ridiculous to sew a corrupt dirty-deal. Thank you, truly a heartfelt thank you,” comments Horowitz sarcastically.
Updated Monday, April 20, 2020 at 2:58 pm added details
Updated Monday, April 20, 2020 at 4:13 pm Gafni