(March 29, 2020 / JNS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Resilience Party leader Benny Gantz said early on Sunday morning that they had “reached understandings and [made] significant progress” during all-night talks and expected to finalize a unity-government deal later in the day.
Israel Resilience MK Gabi Ashkenazi, Gantz’s deputy, also took part in the overnight meeting, during which the parties debated ministry assignments.
“We are on the way to a unity government; we will join forces for you, for our country,” Netanyahu said in a video prior to the meeting.
Initial reports indicate that Gantz will resign the Knesset Speaker position and initially serve as Israel’s foreign or defense minister, with Ashkenazi taking whichever portfolio Gantz does not. That arrangement will stay in place until September 2021, at which time Gantz is scheduled to take over as prime minister.
A Likud MK approved by Israeli Resilience is expected to take over as Speaker, but recently resigned speaker Yuli Edelstein will reportedly not be considered under the agreement.
Included in the deal will be a piece of legislation enabling an acting prime minister under indictment to continue serving in his position.
United Torah Judaism Knesset member Ya’akov Litzman will also keep his position as Health Minister, despite initial demands by Israeli Resilience to replace him with someone having a health or science background.
Litzman was reportedly offered the Construction and Housing Ministry but turned it down, with Gantz ultimately opting to fill the Justice Ministry post with either Avi Nissenkorn or Chili Tropper, candidates Likud had originally rejected but appeared to accept in exchange for keeping Litzman in his position.
Gantz shocked the country when he announced on Thursday that he would break away from Blue and White party cohorts Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, and join a Netanyahu government so the country could move forward with budgeting and legislation critical to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I will not refuse to share in the burden of dealing with the crisis,” Gantz wrote in a post to Facebook the day after his announcement. “We will pull the country out of the economic trauma and attempt to heal the rift caused by hatred that has been tearing us up from within.”
He added that he was “at peace” with his decision because “I did what my nation needs.”
Gantz’s move appears to have made an impression on many Blue and White candidates in other factions, with reports indicating that Blue and White MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, as well as Yesh Atid faction member MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, have announced that they would throw their support behind Gantz and join a unity government alongside him rather than drag Israel into a fourth round of national elections.
Tamano-Shata is likely to be handed the immigration and absorption portfolio, according to Channel 12, while Israel Resilience MK Omer Yankelevich will be given the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, making her Israel’s first-ever female ultra-Orthodox minister.
Lapid and Ya’alon railed against Gantz, accusing him of breaking their trust, betraying their values and “surrendering” to Netanyahu by “crawling” into his government.
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