Netanyahu, Gantz Sign Coalition Deal to Form Government

After three stalemate elections, the two political rivals decided to form a government together and rotate the premiership ■ Agreement includes veto power for Netanyahu on appointing new attorney general, state prosecutor

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
Gantz and Netanyahu in the Prime Minister's Residence after signing the coalition deal. Jerusalem, April 20, 2020.
Gantz and Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Residence after signing the coalition deal in Jerusalem, April 20, 2020.
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party signed on Monday a coalition agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud, after which the two parties will begin advancing legislation to enshrine a rotation agreement for the premiership between the two leaders.

Netanyahu will act as prime minister first while Gantz will serve as deputy. The two will rotate after 18 months. This will be set in a law that would require 75 lawmakers to overturn.

Bibi's got the perfect exit strategy - just not for the coronavirusCredit: Haaretz

Netanyahu is also expected to sign coalition deals with the ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties. However, in their response to the details of the deal, far-right Yamina said: "Netanyahu is showing us the door."

According to the deal, Netanyahu can advance legislation to annex parts of the West Bank starting July 1, on the condition that the move is supported by the U.S. administration.

As part of the agreement, Netanyahu will be able to veto the appointments of the next attorney general and state prosecutor. His trial in three corruption cases is set to begin on May 24. Acting State Prosecutor Dan Eldad, who was appointed by Acting Justice Minister Amir Ohana against the recommendation of the attorney general, will remain in his position for the next six months, as it was agreed that there will be no key appointments during the coronavirus state of emergency.

Additionally, the deal said a deputy prime minister will be allowed to remain in office under indictment, and will receive an official residence.

The committee to appoint judges, which stood at the center of the disgareements between Gantz and Netanyahu during negotiations, will be made up of the Justice Minister and another minister from Likud, as well as another lawmaker from Likud's bloc, Osnat Hila Mark and from Kahol Lavan's, Zvi Hauser.

Netanyahu and Gantz signing the coalition deal at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, April 20, 2020

It is stated in the agreement that all members of the coalition agree not to propose other candidates for the committee.

The deal also said that should the government be disbanded during Netanyahu's 18-month tenure, Gantz would assume the role. Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism have vouched to uphold this part of the agreement.

However, if the High Court of Justice disqualifies Netanyahu from acting as prime minister, the country will once again go to election.

According to the agreement, the government will have 32 ministers in the first stage and will then expand to 36, in addition to 16 deputy ministers.

Gantz will be appointed as Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. Gabi Ashkenazi, who stayed with Kahol Lavan after it broke from Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, will be Foreign Minister. Another senior Kahol Lavan lawmaker, Avi Nissenkorn, is set to receive the justice portfolio.

From Likud, Yisrael Katz will take the Finance Ministry, Miri Regev the public security portfolio and Yariv Levin will be appointed Knesset speaker. Furthermore, Orli Levy-Abekasis, who ran on a joint ticket with left-wing parties Meretz and Labor, will act as a minister for Likud.

The agreement also states that Gantz has veto power over the appointment for the of Knesset speaker.

Labor party leader Amir Peretz will step in as Economy Minister, with party member Itzik Shmuli taking over the welfare portfolio. Yaakov Litzman, who on Monday said he had recovered from COVID-19, will retain his role as Health Minister, as will Interior Minister Arye Dery.

The education portfolio is expected to go to the far-right Yamina party, if it chooses to join the government.

In addition, Likud will chair the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the Economic Affairs Committee and the temporary coronavirus committee, which is currently headed by Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelach.

Kahol Lavan will retain control of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The position of ultra-Orthodox parties was accepted regarding the draft law, and it was decided that the cabinet and not parliament will determine if yeshiva students must serve in the Israeli army.

The two leaders, who have come neck and neck in three elections over the past year, have been in talks to form a government since last month, a move that many in Gantz's camp saw as a betrayal of a major campaign promise.

Gantz's centrist political alliance consequently dissolved, but this did not immediately break Israel's electoral deadlock. On April 16, Benny Gantz's mandate to form a government lapsed after the two leaders failed to agree on the makeup of the committee appointing judges.

Sources in Gantz’s party said the new government has “checks and balances such that each side can neutralize the other.” The justice minister will be from Gantz’s party, but the Constitution Committee will be held by lawmakers from Netanyahu’s Likud. Similarly, the Knesset speaker will be Yariv Levin from Likud but the Knesset House Committee will be comprised of Kahol Lavan lawmakers.

“This government cannot realize the founding vision of Kahol Lavan,” said one source in the party, “but it can block Likud from executing the changes it planned for the justice system.”

Gantz had met with Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Residence on Monday morning for around two hours in an attempt to reach a deal. Last week, President Reuven Rivlin transferred the task of forming a governing coalition to the Knesset, after the former army chief and Netanyahu failed to come to an agreement.

This kicked off a 21-day period in which any lawmaker who could secure 61 signatories from the parliament can form a coalition. Had no one succeeded, the Knesset would have dissolved and another election would have taken place in 90 days, according to Israeli law.

Netanyahu is indicted in three bribery, fraud and breach of trust cases. The trial expected to start on May 24, after legal proceedings were put to a halt throughout Israel on account of coronavirus restrictions.

Around two thousand people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday night, answering a call by the 'Black Flag' movement to protest measures taken by Netanyahu during the coronavirus crisis, which they perceive as undemocratic.

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