Netanyahu, Gantz hammering out unity deal, dividing up ministries

The two sides are in the process of dividing cabinet positions among coalition partners; agree to keep religious party leader in health ministry, but replace Knesset speaker. 

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Negotiating teams representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz met Sunday as talks continued to hammer out the details of a national unity government, Israeli media reported.

The two sides agreed that Yaakov Litzman of the religious United Torah Judaism Party will remain as health minister while Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party will receive the justice, communications and culture portfolios as well as the leadership of several Knesset committees, Ynet reported.

The unity government’s central focus for the first six months will be the coronavirus fight with a special team set up for that purpose. During this time, the government’s policy positions will be formulated areas other than the health and economic crisis.

One of the other agreements was that former Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein will not return to the position and a new speaker of the house will be a candidate accepted by both sides. The veto on Edelstein’s appointment was one of the key demands from Gantz, mainly due to Edelstein’s refusal to comply with a High Court ruling last week to convene a vote for his replacement.

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Edelstein will apparently pay a price for what he considered standing on principle and protecting the independence of parliament last week when he did not allow the Knesset to convene despite the demand by the Supreme Court. As the opposition took control of powerful legislative committees, Edelstein abruptly suspended debate in a bid to gain time.

Although the final decision on the speaker has not yet been made, Channel 13 political affairs analyst Barak Ravid noted the irony given that the apparent compromise is another Likud member who backed Edelstein’s actions.

“The Likud will not nominate Edelstein as speaker of the Knesset because he violated a High Court ruling, and instead appoint (Tourism Minister) Yariv Levin who encouraged Edelstein to violate the High Court ruling,” Rabid tweeted.

With the country suffering massive economic losses and unemployment skyrocketing due to the pandemic, there appears to be little chance that the peace process or other issues will return to the agenda anytime soon.

This may hurt chances of adopting the Trump administration’s peace deal as Gantz is a likely obstacle to settlement annexation and putting the Trump peace plan into action, despite publicly stating that he supports it, The Jerusalem Post reported.