Israel’s new unity government is due to be sworn in on Sunday, following a deal made by rivals Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to end a political rivalry that has dragged on for more than 500 days.
The ceremony, originally scheduled for Thursday evening, was canceled hours before it was due to take place after Netanyahu asked for extra time to allocate ministerial portfolios. Gantz agreed to the request, the two sides said.
Under the power-sharing agreement, Netanyahu, currently interim leader, will remain in the role for 18 months before handing over to Gantz, a former army chief, for the remainder of a three-year term.
The deal envisions a huge 32-minister cabinet, which will rise to 36 members in six months, the largest in the country’s history in part to accommodate the demands of multiple divergent parties within the coalition who have little in common.
Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White parties released the joint policy principles of the new government on Wednesday, stating they would initially form an emergency cabinet to deal with the coronavirus crisis before moving on to different matters.
Despite fighting three brutal elections within the space of a year, as well as multiple failed attempts to reach a compromise, the two men agreed to a deal last month.
Gantz, who entered politics two years ago primarily on the promise to oust Netanyahu, argued the pandemic and the urgent need to end the political crisis meant it was time to put “personal scores aside”. Without a fully functioning government, Israel has not been able to pass a budget.
Gantz saw his Blue and White party break apart with resentment that he had joined its nemesis, Netanyahu, who faces three damning criminal corruption cases.
For Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, the deal was a stunning turnaround after he appeared to be flagging in recent weeks under the strain of the charges, which he denies. He is now likely to remain in office throughout his upcoming corruption trial.
Gantz will serve as defence minister before taking over as prime minister in November 2021.
Writing in the country’s top-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, columnist Ben-Dror Yemini, said the new administration was “a far cry from being what most Israelis would consider to be their dream government”.
“It is inflated, it is wasteful, and it’s unclear if it has any ideology,” he wrote, before adding further down: “Nevertheless, we must wish this government success.”