Israeli parliament passes bill paving path to new government in controversial Gantz-Netanyahu power-sharing deal

Israeli parliament passes bill paving path to new government in controversial Gantz-Netanyahu power-sharing deal
The Israeli parliament passed a bill to form a new government, as coronavirus sweeps across the region.
3 min read
Israel's government is changing [Getty]
The Israeli parliament passed legislation Thursday approving a new coalition government framework and paving the path for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival-turned-partner to join together in a controversial power-sharing deal.

The legislation, which passed easily in a 72-36 vote in parliament, comes a day after Israel's Supreme Court ruled that it would not intervene in the new arrangement or prevent Netanyahu from leading the government despite a corruption indictment against him.

The decision essentially ended the country's prolonged political stalemate and prevented Israel from plunging into a fourth consecutive election in just over a year.

All that remains to be done is acquire the procedural signatures of 61 lawmakers — a parliamentary majority — in favor of Netanyahu as prime minister-designate to be sent to Israel’s ceremonial president before a midnight Thursday deadline.

With a solid majority in hand, Netanyahu and his former challenger Benny Gantz have already announced they will swear in their new government next week.

After battling to three inconclusive elections over the past year and with polls predicting a continued stalemate, Netanyahu and Gantz, a former military chief, announced last month they would be joining forces to steer the country through the coronavirus crisis and its severe economic fallout.

Critics and good-government groups said the deal was illegal and challenged it in the Supreme Court. They argued that the law should bar an official charged with serious crimes from continuing as prime minister.

They also objected to the newly created position of “alternate prime minister,” a post that could allow Netanyahu to remain in office throughout his corruption trial and a potential appeals process.

The new position will enjoy all the trappings of the prime minister, including an official residence and, key for Netanyahu, an exemption from a law that requires public officials who are not prime minister to resign if charged with a crime.

Over two days of deliberations this week, the court considered the arguments before ruling there were no legal grounds to prevent the government from taking office.

Netanyahu has been indicted with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving trading favors with wealthy media moguls. His trial is set to start later this month.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing, and since his indictment last fall, he has repeatedly lashed out at the country’s legal system.

He and his political allies have taken special aim at the high court, accusing it of overreach and political interference.

Gantz, who is slated to become defense minister during the government's first 18 months before taking over from Netanyahu as premier, insists his presence will temper the assault on the legal establishment and install a sense of decorum to counter the divisiveness that had characterized Netanyahu's successive caretaker governments.

Still, their unorthodox arrangement, in which each will have virtual veto power over the other’s decisions, required new legislation that was harshly criticized by the opposition and civil rights groups. 

Agencies contributed to this report.

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