Jerusalem: Israel’s new government is set to be sworn in on Thursday under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, bringing an end to the longest political deadlock in the country’s history which saw a caretaker government in charge for over 500 days and three back-to-back general elections with no clear verdict.
Netanyahu formally made the announcement that he had succeeded in forming a government on Wednesday in letters sent to President Reuven Rivlin and Blue and White party Chairman Benny Gantz, who is temporarily serving as the Knesset’s (Israeli Parliament) speaker.
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 on Thursday evening after lawmakers vote to approve it during a Knesset plenum session that will begin at 6 PM.
Netanyahu, 70, will present the makeup of the government, its ministers, basic principles and guidelines to the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.
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The government with 32 ministers initially is expected to be sworn in at 10 PM. The numbers will swell to 36 in six months, as per the coalition agreement, making it the largest government in the Jewish state’s history.
Gantz will serve as Defense Minister until he is scheduled to take over as the Prime Minister on November 14, 2021. He will till then have the title of ‘Alternate Prime Minister’, something that Netanyahu will take over from him after exchanging the baton.
Prominent ministerial appointments likely are Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue and White party) as foreign minister, Israel Katz (Likud) as finance minister, Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White party) as Justice minister and Likud Yuli Edelstein (Likud) as health minister.
Netanyahu’s close confidante Amir Ohana, currently serving as interim Justice Minister, is expected to receive the public security portfolio, which oversees law enforcement.
During his tenure as justice minister, Ohana repeatedly attacked the judiciary and those leading it as they pushed forward with criminal investigations, and eventually indictments, against Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister has denied any wrongdoing. His trial is set to start later this month.
Ohana’s possible appointment as public security minister has sparked speculation among top police officials that he may seek an outside candidate to lead the force, curtail its Lahav 433 investigation unit, and oppose possible new probes into Netanyahu.
The beleaguered Israeli Prime Minister, who surpassed Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s record of the longest-serving Premier in the country’s history last year in July, managed to hold on to his right-wing bloc amid three inconclusive polls to force his main rival Gantz to finally succumb to the demand of a broad national unity government.
Gantz campaigned on replacing Netanyahu due to the Prime Minister’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 Israel’s Supreme Court.
The document said that the government will initially form an emergency cabinet to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and formulate a plan to bring Israel out of the accompanying economic crisis while rolling out a “socioeconomic safety net” and special programmes for citizens who are struggling financially.