Israeli opposition head Gantz wins chance to form new gov’t

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Benny Gantz – the leader of Israel’s centrist Blue and White party and the main rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – will be tasked with forming a new government on Monday after winning a majority of recommendations from lawmakers.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is due to officially give Gantz the mandate to form a government on Monday, hours before Israel’s new Knesset is scheduled to be sworn in.

Israel has been without a government for more than a year after three consecutive inconclusive elections left no party able to build a parliamentary majority.

In the last election on March 2, neither Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing and religious parties nor the Gantz-led bloc of centre-left and Arab parties won a decisive majority.

Netanyahu claimed victory, however, after his conservative Likud party emerged as the largest party in the 120-seat Knesset with 36 seats. Gantz’ centrist Blue and White came in second with 33 seats.

On Sunday, a disjointed opposition came together to back Gantz, including Avigdor Liberman of the ultra-nationalist, secular Yisrael Beiteinu party with seven mandates, and 15 lawmakers on the Arab Joint List.

Rivlin summoned Gantz and Netanyahu to an “urgent” meeting at his Jerusalem residence on Sunday night to discuss a possible emergency unity government.

After meeting with Rivlin, Netanyahu and Gantz “agreed that (their parties’) negotiating teams will meet as soon as possible,” they said in a joint statement.

Unity government negotiations have previously failed over Netanyahu’s refusal to give up the premiership, and Gantz’s refusal to sit with an indicted prime minister.

Netanyahu’s corruption trial had been due to start on Tuesday, but was postponed to May 24, after courts were put on emergency schedules as part of coronavirus prevention measures, a Jerusalem District Court statement said.

Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases after allegedly offering political favours in return for positive press coverage and helping wealthy business contacts in return for gifts.

It is the first time in Israel’s history that a sitting prime minister has been indicted. (dpa/NAN)

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