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Israel swears in unity government after 500 days of crisis

May 17, 2020

After nearly 18 months without a government, Israel has sworn in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former rival Benny Gantz in a power-sharing agreement.

Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu wearing face masks

After three elections and more than 500 days without a government, the ongoing political crisis in Israel came to an end on Sunday with the inauguration of a unity government made up of right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his former rival, centrist Benny Gantz. 

At a ceremony in Jerusalem, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, the three-year coalition government was formally approved by a 73 to 46 vote. Netanyahu and Gantz were then sworn in as prime minister and alternate prime minister respectively.

Netanyahu belongs to the right-wing Likud party. His rival-turned-ally Gantz leads the centrist Blue and White alliance. 

Government of 'all Israelis'

"This is an important day for the state of Israel," Netanyahu told the Knesset. "The new government has been formed with the support of most of Israel and will be the government of all Israelis," he said.

He also vowed to push on with controversial plans to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu said his incoming government should apply Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements.

Speaking after Netanyahu, Gantz praised the prime minister for making the "brave and important decision" to cooperate with him, saying their new government would end the “worst political crisis" in Israel’s history.

The pair had agreed last month to a power-sharing deal. An initial inauguration date set for last Thursday was pushed back when Netanyahu requested three more days to make cabinet assignments from his center-right Likud party. 

The three-year coalition agreement states that Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for the next 18 months. Gantz will serve as alternate prime minister, a newly created post in Israel. He and Netanyahu will then swap roles. 

Fighting the coronavirus and improving Israel’s battered economy have also been listed as the new government's policy priorities. 

Israel's longest-serving leader, Netanyahu, first came to power in 1996 and has served three consecutive terms since

He is due to go on trial on May 24 on charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud, which he denies.

By assuming that "alternate" premiership once he hands over to Gantz, Netanyahu hopes to avoid having to resign under legal rules that allow a prime minister to remain in office even if charged with a crime.

kp/mm (AFP, dpa)

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