Benjamin Netanyahu delays swearing-in of unity government until Sunday over infighting

The swearing-in of a new Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was postponed at the last moment on Thursday by three days in the wake of growing discontent within his Likud party over distribution of ministerial portfolios.

A joint statement by Netanyahu and his coalition partner, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, said that the two sides have agreed to postpone the swearing-in to Sunday.

Gantz initially insisted that the swearing-in will go ahead as planned earlier Thursday evening, but later relented to Netanyahu’s request under the condition that he would withdraw his resignation as the Speaker of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament).

Knesset’s spokesperson confirmed the withdrawal request by Gantz.

Senior Likud leader and Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Deputy Defence Minister Avi Dichter announced that they would boycott the vote of confidence. “I guess I am not needed in the Knesset, so Shabbat Shalom”, Hanegbi wrote in social media.

Miri Regev and Gila Gamliel, who have been offered ministries (transportation and higher education, respectively), are both reportedly unhappy too.

The elevation of the relatively junior Likud lawmaker (and current acting Justice Minister) Amir Ohana to minister of public security is said to have infuriated several senior leaders in the Likud party.

Despite being the largest government in Israel’s history, Netanyahu’s proposed jumbo cabinet of 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers has failed to satisfy people within his own ruling Likud party and also his natural coalition partners who stood by him during the last 18 months of political uncertainty.

The swearing-in of a new government will bring 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, 70, 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 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, was scheduled to be sworn in on Thursday evening.

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.

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 had 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.

The 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.

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