Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former rival Benny Gantz announced Tuesday he was set to become defense minister, a day after the two signed a hard-won unity government deal.
The agreement, ending a 16-month political deadlock, sees Netanyahu serve as premier for the first half of a three-year term as he faces trial on corruption charges, which he denies.
The premiership would then pass to Gantz in October next year, with elections 18 months later.
The deal comes as Israel, already mired in political crisis after three inconclusive elections in less than a year, faces the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is the biggest health, social and economic crisis in the history of this country at a time of the worst political crisis since the creation of the state,” Gantz said during a televised address Tuesday evening.
“I have chosen to protect democracy and fight against the coronavirus by forming an emergency unity government with the prime minister.”
Both men had tried multiple times in recent months to form governments but neither could summon the support in Israel’s 120-seat legislature to form a government — until Monday evening.
Under the agreement, the pro-Netanyahu camp led by his Likud party will share ministerial posts equally with Gantz’s bloc, led by his Blue and White alliance.
Netanyahu’s supporters will take the finance and health ministries, while Gantz backers will control the defense and justice ministries.
Gantz, who replaces hardliner and Netanyahu supporter Naftali Bennett at the defence ministry, is a career soldier who headed the army during Israel’s last two wars against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in 2012 and 2014.
His decision to seek a deal with Netanyahu prompted high-profile defections from his Blue and White alliance.
Gantz’s former deputy, bitter Netanyahu foe Yair Lapid, on Tuesday slammed it as “the worst act of fraud in the history of this country”.
“I apologise to all those people I convinced to vote for Benny Gantz and Blue and White this past year,” he said.
“I didn’t believe that they would steal your vote and give it to Netanyahu, that they would use your vote to form the fifth Netanyahu government.”