New Israeli Government takes office and ends political blockade

Headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz
A combined photo shows Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White

REUTERS/RONEN ZVULUN Y AMIR COHEN/ARCHIVE  -   A combined photo shows Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White

The new unitary Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and centrist Benny Gantz, puts an end to Israel's longest political crisis this day with a programme focused on economic recovery from the pandemic crisis and the annexation of part of the West Bank.

"We decided together to put aside the divisions and face the challenges that the pandemic poses to our health, economy and society," Netanyahu said in his speech to the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) amidst interruptions from the opposition and accusations of corruption.

The new prime minister faces a week-long trial in which he is being prosecuted for bribery, fraud and abuse of trust in three separate cases.

Netanyahu presented a government focused on employment activation because of the coronavirus crisis, which has caused 1.2 million unemployed in the country.

He also announced that the time has come to begin the annexation of part of the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, "as a new chapter in the history of Zionism", and promised to "lead this historic process".

After long negotiations, the unique government agreement achieved a parliamentary majority that supports Netanyahu as head of government for the first year and a half, after which Gantz will automatically succeed him.

Gantz defended the formation of this Executive to avoid a fourth election after three elections in less than a year, although he had based his election campaigns on ousting Netanyahu by refusing to govern with a man accused of corruption.

He also stressed that the alternative to the unity government was "a kind of civil war" and called for reconciliation and the building of trust between him and Netanyahu, as well as between the right-wing and centre ideological camps that will make up the new Executive.

After the speeches of the leaders and the vote of confidence in the Government, the 36 ministers who will make up the Executive will be sworn in during a session that began at 13:00 local time (10:00 GMT) and will end with the appointment of the new President of Parliament.

The inauguration was again postponed on Thursday at the last minute, as Netanyahu's Likud had not completed the distribution of portfolios that are equally distributed with Gantz's Blue and White party, among their respective formations and partners.

Members of the opposition strongly criticised the high cost of the broad-based government and accused Netanyahu of showing fear for the future decision of the International Criminal Court which is considering moving towards a "war crimes" prosecution.