Political crisis ends: Israel’s 35th government to be sworn in

Last-minute maneuvering pushes off swearing in to approve the new government of national unity that faces monumental task of tackling the coronavirus crisis.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s parliament is set to approve a new government of national unity, although it will be delayed until Sunday after originally being planned for Thursday evening.

Once the swearing-in happens it will end almost 18 months of political uncertainty but challenging politicians to overcome fractious infighting to face the unprecedented coronavirus crisis.

The Knesset is scheduled to convene at 6:00 p.m. to begin the formal process leading up to the vote of confidence in the new government and the official swearing-in that might not take place until after midnight.

Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz will address the house to outline their government’s strategy for tackling the economic crisis in which Israel’s once robust economy has been hobbled and unemployment has skyrocketed to 27 percent.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid will give his rebuttal and leaders of all factions will address the plenum before the vote is held.

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The policy guidelines of the Netanyahu-Gantz government were issued late Wednesday and center on two basic goals of fighting the economic crisis caused by the pandemic and national reconciliation after the intense political acrimony of the three inconclusive national elections.

Lapid lashed out at the government and at Gantz, his former opposition partner who broke the political deadlock by going back on his word and crossing the floor to join a Netanyahu-led government.

“Under cover of the night, like thieves, agreements were signed, offices were invented, jobs were made for everyone,” Lapid tweeted. “Under the cover of night the ministers of the fifth Netanyahu government will be sworn in today. Fifty-two ministers and deputy ministers. Hundreds of millions at public expense. The government of national disconnection is underway.”

In a last-minute deal, Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz jumped from the right-wing Yemina Party and will be appointed Jerusalem Affairs Minister after Netanyahu convinced him to join the coalition.

Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett will be replaced as defense minister by Gantz. Bennett and the rest of his Yamina Party was left out of key cabinet positions and refused to join the government, saying they would rather sit in opposition because Netanyahu went against many of their key policies including his acceptance of the Trump peace plan that could result in a Palestinian state.

Menachem Begin served eight terms in the opposition and came to power, Netanyahu dropped to 12 seats and returned to power. We raise our heads today and go out to our campaign” in the opposition, Bennett said on his Facebook page.

Netanyahu “needs a strong national compass, but doesn’t really like having one,” Bennett said, adding that his party is “going to the opposition without hesitation.”

“We’ll be a straightforward, matter-of-fact right-wing. We’ll be critical when we need to, supportive when we need to.”

The unity government will bring to an end 16 months of a transitional government that managed the country during three debilitating election campaigns but was not empowered to pass a national budget or make major policy changes.

The coronavirus pandemic forced emergency changes to be enacted and put intense pressure on politicians to unite to form a government.

It is the 35th government since the establishment of the state and the fifth government headed by Netanyahu.

However, it is also the most bloated government in the country’s history with almost half the members of the 120-seat Knesset likely to be serving as cabinet ministers or deputy ministers, each accompanied by a large budget at a time of record unemployment.

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Under the unity deal Netanyahu will serve for 18 months as prime minister with Gantz as defense minister. Gantz will then take over as national leader for the following 18 months. If the unity government survives that long, the two will then alternate again for six months each in the prime minister’s role.