Israel unity government delayed in disputes over cabinet posts
The swearing-in of Israel's unity government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been postponed until Sunday amid last-minute wrangling over cabinet appointments, an official statement said.
Under a coalition deal struck with his former election rival Benny Gantz last month, Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for 18 months before Gantz, the leader of Israel's Blue and White coalition, takes over the position in a rotation deal.
Gantz, who initially opposed postponing the inauguration, later agreed in order to give Netanyahu more time to allocate cabinet posts, a joint statement said.
The Times of Israel reported that since Netanyahu's bloc includes several smaller parties, he was struggling to distribute ministerial posts to lawmakers from his Likud party.
It reported that numerous Likud members of the Knesset, some of them ministers and even veteran lawmakers, were privately and in some cases publicly rebelling, furious that they had been offered minor government positions or no posts at all.
Haaretz reported that outgoing Defense Minister Naftali Bennett accused Netanyahu of not attempting to include Yamina, an alliance of right-wing parties, in the new government, and blamed the incumbent for compromising on key promises.
"Netanyahu erased sovereignty from the [government's] fundamental principles," Haaretz quoted Bennett as saying.
Bennett suggested this was because Netanyahu wanted to avoid "insulting" Gantz's and other centrists' "secretly leftist feelings."
In response, the Likud party accused Bennett of playing politics since Netanyahu had not offered Bennett the portfolio for the Ministry of Health position. The paper said Bennet had initially requested the portfolio but it was instead given to former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein of the Likud party.
Haaretz added that because of the postponement, Gantz withdrew his resignation as Knesset speaker as he would not be taking up his new post as defence minister until the swearing-in ceremony.
Retaining the speakership ostensibly gives Gantz leverage over Netanyahu to prevent him from canceling the swearing-in altogether and forcing a fourth election.
Netanyahu to remain in power during trial
On Wednesday, Netanyahu formally informed President Reuven Rivlin and Gantz that he had succeeded in forming a government, which would have 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers, making it the biggest in Israel's history.
The unity agreement will leave Netanyahu in power throughout a trial due to begin on 24 May, the first such proceedings against a sitting Israeli prime minister.
Netanyahu has been indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving trading favours with wealthy media moguls. He denies any wrongdoing and blames the charges on a media-orchestrated plot to oust him.
Netanyahu has already made clear his government's intention to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank as early as this summer. The coalition agreement allows him to present an annexation proposal as soon as 1 July.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a one-day visit to Israel on Wednesday that included talks on annexations complying with President Donald Trump's Mideast plan.
In January, Trump unveiled his so-called "deal of the century" addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would see Israel take about a third of the West Bank in exchange for recognising a disjointed Palestinian state with no control over its borders or airspace.
The Palestinians claim the entire West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as the heartland of an independent state.
Annexing chunks of this territory would likely put an end to the Palestinians' already diminishing hopes of a two-state solution and would anger the international community, which overwhelmingly supports Palestinian statehood.