After Year of Deadlock and Days of Delays, Knesset Swears in New Israeli Government

Met with opposition heckling, Netanyahu said now is the time for anyone who believes in 'our rights in the Land of Israel to join a government led by me to bring about a historic process together'

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before the Knesset swearing-in ceremony, May 17, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before the Knesset swearing-in ceremony, May 17, 2020.Credit: Knesset Spokesperson / Kobi Gideon

Israel’s 35th government was sworn in on Sunday, capping more than a year of political deadlock, with three back-to-back election cycles.

The vote of confidence in the new government passed with 73 in favor and 46 against.

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Merav Michaeli, a Labor lawmaker who decided to stay in the opposition when her party colleagues went into the coalition with Netanyahu and Gantz, voted against the government.

Incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu succeeded in forming a government, which, with 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers, is the biggest in Israel's history. After 18 months, Benny Gantz will become prime minister. Netanyahu's trial for suspected bribery, fraud and breach of trust will commence in seven days, on May 24.

The Knesset also elected Yariv Levin from Netanyahu’s Likud as its new speaker. In his acceptance, the previous Tourism Minister addressed the ongoing tensions between right-wing lawmakers and the judiciary. "We must pay close attention to the dignity of the judiciary," he said. "However, the Supreme Court's growing intervention requires us to adhere to the Knesset's dignity, avoid crossing the line, and protect its status."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in Israel last week, tweeted to welcome the swearing-in.

"We are extremely fortunate to have such strong and experienced partners in Jerusalem, and we will work together to advance the security and prosperity of our peoples," Pompeo said.

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In his speech before the swearing-in ceremony, Netanyahu said, in regard to applying Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank, "The time has come for anyone who believes in the justness of our rights in the Land of Israel to join a government led by me to bring about a historic process together." The issue is "on the agenda "only because I acted on it personally," he added, saying that he pushed for it for three years, publicly and covertly.

He also claimed that the unity government between him and Gantz avoided a fourth round of elections, which would have threatened the government's response to the coronavirus crisis. "The majority of the public is glad to accept a unity government. The public wants a unity government, and that's what the public is getting today," he said. He added that his Likud party "received the highest number of votes a party ever received in the history of the country."

His remarks were consistently met with heckling from the opposition. Joint List MKs Ahmad Tibi and Ofer Cassif shouted "Election fraud" and "pathological liar" over the prime minister as he spoke. Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz shouted "He's guilty of crimes!"

Netanyahu also lauded the government's response to the coronavirus crisis, and stressed the importance of preventing Iran's entrenchment in Syria and its nuclear project.

In his speech, Benny Gantz, who was also interrupted by opposition members, said the new government caps a year and a half of political deadlock, the "biggest" in the country's history. "The people told us to stop fighting and start working for them," he said, adding that that the new government represents larger segments of the population and is "equitable."

Gantz repeatedly cited his "national responsibility" and commitment as a prime factor in his decision to join a government led by Netanyahu. He lamented the splitting of his Kahol Lavan party and said no "political stunt" could have changed the harsh reality of a political deadlock amid a major health crisis.

After 18 months, the government will enter its second term, and the prime ministers will rotate. After Gantz becomes premier, some of the ministers will switch jobs as well.

Taking the podium, opposition head Yair Lapid said the government “has lost the public's trust today. Those who are not politicians hate politics. They don’t think politics represents values and see it as irrelevant to their lives. Politics takes their money and gives them nothing in return.”

Lapid added that “the coronavirus is just an excuse to throw a corrupt party at the expense of tax payers. After all the empty talk about an emergency government, today the biggest and most squandering government in Israel’s history is formed."

These are the appointments confirmed or reported so far:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud)

Defense Minister (second term: Prime Minister) Benny Gantz (Kahol Lavan)

Foreign Affairs Minister (second term: Defense Minister) Gabi Ashkenazi (Kahol Lavan)

Finance Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud)

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn (Kahol Lavan)

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (Likud)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud)

Transportation Minister (second term: Foreign Minister) Miri Regev (Likud)

Education Minister Yoav Gallant (Likud)

Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir (Kahol Lavan)

Negev and Galilee Development Minister and Interior Minister Arye Dery (Shas)

Economy Minister Amir Peretz (Labor)

Housing and Construction Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism)

Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Itzik Shmuli (Labor)

Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen (Kahol Lavan)

Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (Derech Eretz)

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud)

Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud)

Immigrant Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (Kahol Lavan)

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper (Kahol Lavan)

Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen (Kahol Lavan)

Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich (Kahol Lavan)

Agriculture Minister Alon Schuster (Kahol Lavan)

Community Development Minister Orli Levi-Abekasis (Gesher)

Religious Services Minister Yaakov Avitan (Shas)

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Rafi Peretz (Habayit Hayehudi)

Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay (Kahol Lavan)

Settlement Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), to be replaced with Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) for the second term

Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud)

Intelligence Affairs Minister Eli Cohen (Likud)

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud)

Higher Education and Water Resources Minister (second term: Transportation Minister) Zeev Elkin (Likud)

Minister in the Defense Ministry Michael Biton (Kahol Lavan)

Minister David Amsalem (Likud), responsible for liaison between the cabinet and the Knesset

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