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Israel's Netanyahu, Gantz sign deal to form 'emergency' unity government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and chief rival Benny Gantz sign coalition deal, averting new elections
Netanyahu will remain as prime minister while Gantz will serve as his deputy (Reuters/File photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz signed a deal to form an "emergency" coalition government on Monday, ending a political stalemate that has seen three general elections in less than a year.

According to Haaretz, Netanyahu's Likud Party and Gantz's Blue and White alliance will begin advancing legislation to enshrine a rotation agreement for the premiership between the two leaders.

Netanyahu will remain as prime minister while Gantz will serve as his deputy. It was previously reported by Israeli media that the two would rotate after 18 months.  

"An agreement for the establishment of a national emergency government is now being signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White (alliance) chairman... Benny Gantz," a joint statement read.

The two leaders have been in discussions to form a government since last month, after both failed to cobble together a coalition multiple times.

Gantz angers his own bloc

Gantz had previously said he would not serve in a government led by Netanyahu, who is facing several corruption charges. His trial is set to begin on 24 May.

The premier is accused of a range of offences, including receiving gifts and offering a media mogul lucrative regulatory changes in exchange for favourable coverage. He denies any wrongdoing.

As part of Monday's agreement, Netanyahu will be able to veto the appointments of the next attorney general and state prosecutor.

'I am at peace with myself and at peace with my decision'

- Benny Gantz, Knesset speaker

Additionally, the agreement said a deputy prime minister will be allowed to remain in office under indictment, Haaretz reported.

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

Gantz, a former armed forces chief, is expected serve as defence minister and several of his political allies, including two members of Israel's Labour Party, will receive ministerial portfolios as well.

Israelis protest Netanyahu's rule

Gantz's decision to break his campaign promise and consider a deal with Netanyahu has angered many of his supporters and triggered the break-up of his original Blue and White alliance.

The 60-year-old claimed the move was necessary to ease the grinding political deadlock and strengthen Israel's ability to confront the coronavirus pandemic. 

"I am at peace with myself and at peace with my decision," Gantz said last week, according to the New York Times.

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"Israel needs a national emergency government. And Israel comes before all else."

On Sunday, thousands of Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv, under Israel's social distancing guidelines, to protest against the coalition talks.

"Let democracy win," said one placard, while some protesters had written "Crime Minister" on their masks, a reference to Netanyahu's forthcoming corruption trial.

So far, Israel has reported more than 13,000 Covid-19 cases and at least 170 deaths. 

Restrictions have confined most Israelis to their homes, forcing businesses to close and sending unemployment up to more than 25 percent.