Netanyahu offers to step down in 2021 to advance unity deal

The Israeli leader added that if Blue and White rivals act to remove the current Knesset speaker, the unity offer will be taken off the table.

By Associated Press

Israel’s prime minister Saturday said he is ready to step down next year as part of a proposed power-sharing agreement with his chief rival meant to steer the country through the coronavirus crisis and end a year-long political deadlock.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his proposal during a nationally televised interview, calling for the formation of a three-year “emergency” unity government with the rival Blue and White Party.

Netanyahu told Channel 12 TV that he would remain as prime minister for the first year and a half, and allow Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to assume the post for a second year-and-a-half term in September 2021. He said each party would have an equal number of seats in the Cabinet.

“I will give up the prime minister’s post in another year and a half,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu added that if Blue and White continues to try to replace Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in the coming week, the unity government offer will be taken off the negotiating table.

Israel is facing a growing threat from the coronavirus pandemic. It has detected nearly 900 cases and on Friday reported its first death. With the public largely confined to their homes, the economy appears to be in great danger, with tens of thousands of people losing their jobs.

Israel this month held its third inconclusive election in under a year. Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the largest single party, but fell short of securing a required parliamentary majority. A slim majority of lawmakers has endorsed Gantz as their choice for prime minister, though it is unclear whether he will be able to cobble together a governing coalition either.

Gantz now has just over three weeks to form a new government. In the meantime, he is trying to push through legislation in parliament that would in effect prevent Netanyahu from serving as prime minister in the future. The legislation would impose term limits on the prime minister and bar a politician indicted on criminal charges from being prime minister.

Last week, parliament Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a member of Likud, suspended the parliament’s activities, preventing the newly elected legislature from choosing a new speaker and forming the committees needed to push through Blue and White’s legislative agenda.

The justice minister last week also shut down most of the court system, delaying the prime minister’s trial until at least May.

More than 275,000 people have been infected by the coronavirus worldwide. The virus has killed more than 11,000 people, while more than 88,000 have recovered.

Most people only experience minor flu-like symptoms from the coronavirus and recover within a few weeks, but the virus is highly contagious and can be spread by those who appear well. It can cause severe illness, including pneumonia, in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems.