Israel’s Gantz elected speaker, to seek unity government with Netanyahu

While attention has immediately turned to the expected unity deal, Gantz’s move also triggered a break-up of his centrist bloc.
Sunday 29/03/2020
An election banner for the Israeli Blue and White alliance with pictures of its leader retired military General Benny Gantz (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in Ramat Gan, February 17. (AFP)
Rotating power. An election banner for the Israeli Blue and White alliance with pictures of its leader retired military General Benny Gantz (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in Ramat Gan, February 17. (AFP)

London - Benny Gantz, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s main political rival, has been elected parliamentary speaker, possibly setting up an “emergency unity government” that could keep Netanyahu in power.

Gantz’s move could indicate a “rotation” deal in which he and Netanyahu take turns as leader of the country.

It follows a year of political deadlock in which the Israeli electorate voted in three inconclusive elections.

“These are unusual times and they call for unusual decisions,” Gantz told the Knesset after his election to the speaker’s post. “That is why I intend to explore the formation of an emergency unity government.”

Gantz was tasked with forming a government following the March 2 vote, something he was unable to do after two elections last year.

The divided anti-Netanyahu forces, who had a narrow majority in Israel’s parliament, forced the ouster Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party. Gantz put himself forward as Edelstein’s replacement, a dramatic initiative widely seen as an acceptance that he would not be prime minister for now.

Israel has more than 2,600 confirmed coronavirus cases and imposed a nationwide ban on non-essential movement in the hope of containing contagion.

While attention has immediately turned to the expected unity deal, Gantz’s move also triggered a break-up of his centrist bloc.

Yair Lapid, who heads Yesh Atid, said: “Benny Gantz decided today to break apart Blue and White and crawl into Netanyahu’s government.”

“What’s being formed today isn’t a unity government and not an emergency government. It’s another Netanyahu government. Benny Gantz surrendered without a fight,” he added.

Netanyahu, in office since 2009, is the first Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office after being formally charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in January. He denies the charges.

Gantz previously ruled out serving alongside a prime minister under criminal indictment but that was before the coronavirus pandemic unfolded.

Netanyahu reportedly offered Gantz a series of deals since the March 2 vote, including scenarios in which the position of prime minister would rotate between the two. Gantz, a former head of the Israeli military, casts himself as more diplomatically accommodating than Netanyahu, urging redoubled efforts to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.

However, he has also embraced US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which was rejected by the Palestinians who said it ignored their legitimate rights to self-determination and permitted Israeli annexation of most of the occupied West Bank. (With news agencies.)

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