Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has finally sworn in his new government.
It follows three deadlocked and divisive elections, a year-and-a-half of political paralysis and another three-day delay because of political infighting in Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party.
The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed a vote of confidence in Mr Netanyahu’s new administration to end over 500 days of upheaval.
Over the weekend, both Mr Netanyahu and his rival-turned-partner Benny Gantz announced their appointments for the new government – the most bloated in Israeli history with an expected 36 cabinet ministers and 16 deputies.
Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz, a former military chief, announced last month they would be putting their differences aside to join forces to steer the country through the coronavirus crisis and its severe economic fallout.
Their controversial powersharing deal calls for Mr Netanyahu to serve as prime minister for the government’s first 18 months before being replaced by Mr Gantz for the next 18 months. Their blocs will also have a similar number of ministers and mutual veto power over most major decisions.
Critics have already accused the government of being out of touch by creating so many Cabinet posts at a time when unemployment has soared to 25% as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But because Mr Netanyahu’s bloc includes several smaller parties, he still only has a limited number of cabinet ministries to hand out to Likud colleagues.
A mini-insurgency by angry senior Likud members forced Mr Netanyahu to seek a delay in the swearing-in ceremony last Thursday.
To appease his backbenchers, Mr Netanyahu created a series of new ministries with questionable responsibilities, such as “community development”, “settlement affairs” and “higher education and water resources” and a minister to be the liaison between the parliament and the cabinet. Each ministry means paying for drivers, staff and office space.
Yair Lapid, the new opposition leader, said the machinations have led to a loss of “trust of the Israeli public”.
“The coronavirus is an excuse for a corrupt party at the expense of the taxpayer. After all the empty talk of an ‘emergency government’ the government being formed today is the largest and most wasteful in the history of the country,” he said.
“It’s not just the waste, it’s the contempt. The complete contempt for the crisis facing the Israeli public.”
The deal has already led to the dissolution of Mr Gantz’s alliance with Mr Lapid after he reneged on his central campaign promise not to serve under Mr Netanyahu, who has been indicted on corruption charges and faces a criminal trial starting next week.
Their much-scrutinised coalition deal could only come about after the country’s Supreme Court ruled it had no legal grounds to block it.
Mr Gantz and Mr Netanyahu fought to stalemates in three bitter election campaigns over the past year.
After the most recent vote in March, Mr Gantz appeared to secure enough support in parliament to pass legislation that would have barred the indicted Mr Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister. But in a stunning u-turn, Mr Gantz agreed to enter a partnership with his arch rival.
Despite the criticism, Mr Gantz argued that teaming with Mr Netanyahu offered the country its only way out of the prolonged stalemate and prevented what would have been a fourth costly election in just over a year.
In his speech to parliament, Mr Netanyahu acknowledged that compromises had to be made but that another election would have been far more devastating.
“The public wants a unity government and this is what the public is getting today,” he said. “We chose to serve the country together.”
Mr Gantz will start out as defence minister, with party colleague and fellow retired military chief Gabi Ashkenazi serving as foreign minister. Mr Netanyahu’s top deputy in Likud, outgoing foreign minister Israel Katz, will become finance minister. Yariv Levin, perhaps Mr Netanyahu’s closest ally, will become the new parliament speaker.