President Reuven Rivlin (c), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (l) and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz shake hands. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rivlin Gantz Netanyahu

Gantz and Netanyahu reportedly agreed on a broad coalition in which Netanyahu would remain prime minister and Gantz would likely become foreign minister. In September 2021, the two are to swap posts.

By Associated Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief rival was chosen on Thursday as the new speaker of parliament, an unexpected step that could pave the way to a power-sharing deal between the two men as the country grapples with the coronavirus crisis.

The sudden turnabout by Benny Gantz, who has spent the past year trying to topple Netanyahu in three inconclusive elections, appeared to give the embattled prime minister a new lease on life as he prepares to go on trial for corruption charges. It also drew angry criticism from his political partners and ripped apart his Blue and White party, an alliance of thee-anti-Netanyahu factions.

The vote passed 74-18, with many of Gantz’s former allies, including half of Blue and White, skipping the vote.

“Democracy has won,” Gantz declared in his first speech as speaker, saying he had taken the step to deal with the national emergency.

“These are not regular days and they demand irregular decisions. Therefore, I intend to examine and advance in every way the establishment of national emergency government,” he said.

But in a string of speeches ahead of the vote, opposition lawmakers who had all previously backed Gantz streamed into the empty parliament chamber one after another to rail against him. Only a few people were allowed in at a time due to restrictions on public gatherings.

“This is a dark day,” said Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the liberal Meretz party, in a speech ahead of the vote. “There are no other ways to describe the runaround going on here.”

Israel’s Channel 12 TV reported that Gantz and Netanyahu had agreed on a broad coalition in which Netanyahu would remain as prime minister and Gantz would become his foreign minister. In September 2021, the two are to swap posts, the report said.

The political fireworks come just as the government enacted new restrictions requiring Israelis to almost completely stay at home, under threat of fines. Over 2,600 Israelis have been infected by the new virus, with 41 in serious condition. Eight Israelis have died.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or even death. The virus is highly contagious and can be spread by those showing no symptoms.

With the country’s coronavirus crisis , Netanyahu has called for an emergency unity government, most recently in a nationally televised speech Wednesday night.

Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the largest party in the March 2 election, but along with his smaller religious and nationalist allies, fell short of security the required majority in parliament.

Gantz is backed by a slim majority in the newly elected Knesset and has been pushing for the country’s legislature to continue functioning at such a critical time, even without a permanent government in place.

Blue and White had been marching forward in parliament with planned legislation that could have made Netanyahu ineligible from continuing as prime minister.

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