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Netanyahu Officially Announces He’s Formed New Government

After nearly 18 months of political deadlock, the swearing-in ceremony to be held Thursday following vote in Knesset; Likud, Blue, and White release coalition policy principles.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu officially announced Wednesday that he had succeeded in forming a new government, bringing to an end nearly 18 months of political gridlock.

Netanyahu made the announcement informal letters to Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz in his capacity as the temporary Knesset speaker and to President Reuven Rivlin.

“I managed to form a government,” he wrote, asking Gantz to convene the Knesset to hold a vote of confidence.

The new government, which, according to the coalition agreement, will see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister after 18 months, is scheduled to be sworn in Thursday evening after lawmakers vote to approve it during a Knesset plenum session that will begin at 6 p.m.

The Knesset will also vote on a new speaker, slated to be Likud MK Yariv Levin.

The swearing-in of the new government will conclude the longest political logjam in Israel’s history, in which Netanyahu’s Likud party and Blue and White went head-to-head in an unprecedented three consecutive elections.

Gantz campaigned on replacing Netanyahu due to the premier’s indictment on graft charges but dropped his opposition to sitting in a government with him after the latest elections again ended with no clear winner, citing the coronavirus pandemic and a desire to avoid a fourth round of voting.

The move led to the breakup of the Blue and White alliance, with Gantz being elected as Knesset speaker with the backing of Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc as they negotiated the terms of the new government.

Ahead of the swearing-in ceremony, Likud and Blue and White on Wednesday evening released the policy principles of the new government, as instructed by the High Court of Justice.

The document said the government will initially form an emergency cabinet to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and formulate a plan to extract Israel from the accompanying economic crisis, while rolling out a “socioeconomic safety net” and special programs for citizens who are struggling financially.

To do this, the government will push to “strengthen national security” and “strive for peace,” ensure equal opportunity for all Israelis, boost the economy, work “to bridge between all parts of the nation,” preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic character, and encourage immigration of Jews to the country, among other policy stances.“Additionally, out of the belief that the Jewish people has the inviolable right to a sovereign state in the Land of Israel, the national and historic homeland of the Jewish people, the government will also address all issues relating to the peace, security and prosperity of Israel,” the statement said.

Furthermore, the government will promote “conduct, dialogue and action in a statesmanlike, law-abiding, respectful and unifying manner” among all Israelis, the document said.

The principles did not specifically mention the annexation of parts of the West Bank, a step that under the coalition deal between Likud and Blue and White can be set in motion as early as July.

The release of the new government’s policy platform came as Likud and Blue and White inked agreements with their respective allies to bring them into the coalition.

For Likud, this included Shas and United Torah Judaism, a pair of ultra-Orthodox parties, while Blue and White reached terms with the small right-wing faction Derech Eretz.

A deal between Likud and Yamina, the national-religious party that stuck by Netanyahu after the past two elections, remained elusive, with the two sides at odds over the party’s role in the next government.

After an earlier phone call between Netanyahu and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett failed to bridge the divide, the prime minister met separately with the party’s No. 2 Rafi Peretz in a reported bid to bring him into the government without the rest of the faction.

Netanyahu offered Peretz, who is currently education minister, the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry as well as authority over settlement issues, the Walla news site reported.

It was their second meeting of the evening.

Under the coalition deal signed last month between Likud and Blue and White, the new government will initially have 32 ministers — divided equally between the Netanyahu- and Gantz-led blocs — before swelling to 36 in six months in what would be the largest government in Israel’s history.

According to a Channel 12 report Monday, Netanyahu wants the new government to begin with 36 ministers, which could help him deal with pressure for ministerial positions within Likud as well as possibly paving the way for Yamina to join.

For the first 18 months of the government, Netanyahu will serve as prime minister, after which he’ll be replaced by Gantz, who in the meantime will be defense minister.

Each of them will carry the title “alternate prime minister” when not serving as premier.

Among the prominent ministerial appointments in the new government are Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi as foreign minister, Likud MK Israel Katz as finance minister, Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn as justice minister and Likud MK Yuli Edelstein as health minister.

By Alexander Fulbright – The Times of Israel