Israeli PM Netanyahu, main rival Gantz ink emergency unity gov't deal

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival, Benny Gantz, signed on Monday a deal to form an emergency unity government.

The deal, between Netanyahu's rightwing Likud party and Gantz's centrist White and Blue party, ends more than a year of a political stalemate.

"We have a national emergency government," Gantz wrote on Twitter.

He said the deal has spared Israel a fourth round of elections in about a year, vowing "to fight the coronavirus and serve the entire people of Israel."

"I secured a national emergency government that will act to save the lives and the livelihood of the citizens of Israel," Netanyahu said in a separate statement issued by his office.

Under the power-sharing deal, a copy of which was seen by Xinhua, Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for 18 months before being replaced by Gantz, who will serve the post for another 18 months, as part of a rotation deal that will be bound by law.

Before taking the helm, Gantz will serve as defense minister, while Gabi Ashkenazi, a former military chief from Blue and White, will serve as foreign minister.

The governing coalition will also include a bloc of Jewish ultra-Orthodox and far-right parties, which sit in Netanyahu's current government.

The deal put under question Netanyahu's controversial promise to annex the West Bank's Jordan Valley, which was a major part of U.S. President Donald Trump's so-called peace plan for the Middle East.

The deal does not straightforwardly cancel the annexation but states that such a move could be made only if it will not harm regional stability and future prospects for peace.

The Palestinians firmly oppose the annexation because the Jordan Valley is part of the West Bank, a territory seized by Israel in a 1967 war, where the Palestinians wish to build their future state.

Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab-Jewish Joint List party, Israel's third-largest party, criticized Gantz for choosing to join forces with "the corruption and racism."

The deal "is a slap in the face of the majority of citizens who repeatedly voted to oust Netanyahu," Odeh wrote on Twitter, referring to Gantz's main campaign promise that he will not sit in a government with Netanyahu as a prime minister.

The deal comes a day after more than 2,000 Israelis took to Tel Aviv's main plaza, calling for Netanyahu's resignation over a series of criminal cases in which he is involved.

The opening session of his trial is scheduled to begin on May 24, where he will face a series of corruption charges.

Many lawmakers with the opposition criticized the size of the government and its high costs during the economic crisis inflicted by the coronavirus, with about a quarter of the Israelis becoming unemployed.

Under the deal, the government will include up to 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers, the largest government in the history of Israel.

"This is Gantz's and Ashkanzi's only contribution to the war against unemployment," Ofer Shelah, a lawmaker with Yesh Atid, a centrist party and Gantz's former partner, wrote on Twitter.

The deal comes after a period of 484 days in which Israel has an interim government in the wake of three rounds of inconclusive elections in about a year. 

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