The swearing-in ceremony for the new Israeli national unity government has been delayed to Sunday afternoon in order to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more time to distribute ministry portfolios to his Likud party.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz initially refused the request by Netanyahu, suspecting that the delay was to buy time to scrap the coalition agreement signed between to the two leaders in late April. As Thursday’s scheduled swearing in ceremony approached with clear signs it was not going to happen, a joint statement by the two parties was released in which Gantz agreed to the delay, but would withdraw his resignation as Knesset speaker as well.
According to the terms of the coalition agreement signed by Gantz and Netanyahu last month, Gantz will take over the premiership in a year and a half, at which time Netanyahu will become Vice Prime Minister.
Outgoing Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, a longtime Netanyahu loyalist and confidante, is slated to be approved as Knesset Speaker. Levin will replace Gantz, who temporarily occupied the position until submitting his resignation, ahead of the scheduled swearing-in of the new government.
The parties that have joined the coalition are the Likud, headed by Netanyahu; Blue and White, led by Gantz; Shas, led by Aryeh Deri; United Torah Judaism, led by outgoing Health Minister Yaakov Litzman; Labor, under chairman Amir Peretz; Derech Eretz, led by Yoaz Hendel and Tzvi Hauser; and Gesher, headed by Orly Levy-Abekasis.
Last-ditch efforts to persuade Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party to join failed.
Outgoing Defense Minister Bennett, whose ideology is similar to that of Netanyahu’s but who has had strained relations with him for years, announced that he would become a member of the opposition.
Outgoing Education Minister Rafi Peretz—who heads Yamina’s Jewish Home faction—announced on Thursday morning that he was splitting from Bennett’s party in order to join the new government. He accepted Netanyahu’s offer to become minister for Jerusalem affairs and national projects.
The 35th government will be the largest in Israeli history with 34 ministers.
The coalition agreement said the new government will deal with the coronavirus pandemic and formulate a plan to extract Israel from the economic crisis, while rolling out a “socioeconomic safety net” and special programmes for citizens who are struggling financially. The new government “will strengthen national security, will strive for peace, will guarantee the wellbeing and safety of all citizens of the state,” as well as “act substantively and practically to bridge between all parts of the public”.