JERUSALEM—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival announced Monday that they have forged a deal to form an “emergency” government, ending months of political paralysis and averting what would have been a fourth consecutive election in just over a year.
Netanyahu and former military chief Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, signed the agreement after weeks of negotiations for what they termed a “national emergency” government meant to steer the country through the outbreak caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.
The deal calls for a three-year period. Netanyahu, who is under criminal indictment in three corruption cases, will remain prime minister for 18 months after which Gantz will replace him, according to the agreement signed by both men.
Gantz’s party will take control of a number of senior government ministries, including foreign affairs and defense, and Netanyahu’s party will gain influence over judicial appointments.
“I promised the state of Israel a national emergency government that will work to save the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu tweeted.
After an inconclusive election on March 2, Netanyahu and Gantz agreed to try to form a unity government because of the burgeoning CCP virus crisis. The talks dragged on and stalled several times, sparking concern that the collapse of a deal would force the country into new elections.
“We prevented a fourth election,” Gantz tweeted. “We will protect democracy. We will battle corona and we will worry about all the citizens of Israel.”
Last month’s election, just like the campaigns last September and April, ended with no clear winner. But with a slight majority of lawmakers endorsing him, Gantz was chosen first by the country’s figurehead president to try to build a coalition government.
Negotiations continued even after Gantz’ allotted time to build a coalition ended last week. The Knesset, or parliament, had been given until May 7 to select a candidate for prime minister. Otherwise, it would automatically have been dissolved, triggering new elections.
Netanyahu is awaiting trial on charges of accepting bribes, breach of trust, and fraud. He has denied any wrongdoing. Citing the CCP virus crisis, the justice minister shuttered most of the court system and has delayed the trial by two months.
Israel has identified more than 13,000 cases of the virus, with 172 deaths. While this week the country began relaxing some of its health restrictions, hundreds of thousands are out of work and the economy has come to a standstill.
By Tia Goldenberg
Reuters and Epoch Times staff contributed to this report