Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is finally swearing in his new government – a move that comes after three deadlocked elections, a year-and-a-half of political paralysis and another three-day delay because of infighting in his Likud party over coveted cabinet posts.
Over the weekend, both Mr Netanyahu and his rival-turned-partner Benny Gantz announced their appointments for the new government, which is expected to be the largest in Israeli history with 36 ministers and 16 deputies.
The two leaders announced last month that they were putting their differences aside to join forces to steer the country through the coronavirus crisis and its severe economic fallout.
Their controversial power-sharing deal calls for Mr Netanyahu to serve as PM for the government’s first 18 months before being replaced by Mr Gantz for the following 18 months. Their blocs will also have a similar number of ministers and virtual veto power over the other’s 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 the Likud rank-and-file, and he faced a mini-insurgency from angry senior members ahead of the planned swearing-in ceremony on Thursday.
Unable to meet a deadline, Mr Netanyahu asked for a delay until Sunday to solve his internal party crisis.
The deal has already led to the dissolution of Mr Gantz’s Blue and White party after he reneged on his central campaign promise not to serve under Mr Netanyahu, who has been indicted on corruption charges and faces an upcoming criminal trial.
Their much-scrutinised coalition deal could only come about after the country’s Supreme Court ruled it had no legal grounds to block it.
Despite the criticism, Mr Gantz argued teaming up with Mr Netanyahu offered the country its only way out of the prolonged stalemate and prevented Israel from being dragged once again to another costly election that would have been its fourth in just over a year.
In his speech to parliament on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu acknowledged compromises have had to be made but he insisted 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.
The coalition will also include a pair of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and some other individual defectors to add up to 73 out of parliament’s 120 members.