Israel’s Netanyahu sworn in as head of long-awaited unity govt

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been sworn in as Israel’s new prime minister at the head of a unity government with former rival Benny Gantz, ending a nearly 18-month political crisis.

The unity deal with former military chief of staff Gantz means Netanyahu has been able to hang on to power for a record fifth term despite corruption charges against him and a looming trial.

Gantz, who is due to replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, was sworn in as defence minister minutes after Netanyahu.

The ceremony comes after three elections in under a year – the last on March 2 – ended without a clear winner.

Gantz has said that the need for a stable Israeli government to tackle the coronavirus outbreak drove him to break his vow never to serve with Netanyahu.

According to deal between the two sides, Netanyahu may ask his cabinet or the Knesset as early as July 1 to vote on annexing West Bank land with Jewish settlements.

Netanyahu and his former rival yesterday hailed the end of an unprecedented one-and-a-half-year political crisis as they presented their long-awaited unity government.

“This is an important day for the state of Israel,” Netanyahu told the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, hours before he would be sworn in and start a fourth consecutive term in office, and one week before his corruption trial is set to start in a Jerusalem court.

On May 7, Israel’s top court rejected petitions against the indicted premier starting a fifth term in office, removing the final obstacle for the unity government and cementing the 70-year-old’s reputation as a political wizard, who survives against all odds.

“The time has come to extend the Israeli law over (Israel’s) settlements (in the occupied West Bank) and to start a new chapter in the history of Zionism,” Netanyahu said, a step that would bring peace with the Palestinians “closer” and be carried out with the approval of the U.S.

Former military chief Gantz justified his “difficult decision” to break his vow never to serve with the indicted Netanyahu, saying the choice had been “either unity or kind of civil war”.

The two men were greeted by loud heckling by opposition lawmakers, one of whom was ushered out of the Knesset by security.

The festive parliament session – delayed twice in the past week – followed three inconclusive elections in a year.

The last of those was on March 2 – after which neither right-wing Likud party leader Netanyahu, nor centrist Blue and White alliance leader Gantz had proved able to muster a majority for a governing coalition.

Gantz broke his long-time vow never to serve with the indicted Netanyahu.

He said Israel needed a stable government to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout and could not afford a fourth election.

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