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Controversial Netanyahu coalition ends paralysis in Israeli politics

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Former military chief Benny Gantz reneged on promises. Photo: Reuters

Former military chief Benny Gantz reneged on promises. Photo: Reuters

Former military chief Benny Gantz reneged on promises. Photo: Reuters

After three deadlocked and divisive elections, and a year and a half of political paralysis, Israel was finally swearing in a new government yesterday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu securing a historic fifth term in office thanks to a controversial power-sharing deal with rival-turned-partner Benny Gantz.

Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz, a former military chief, announced last month they would be putting their differences aside, after three hard-fought campaigns, to join forces and steer the country through the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.

It came at the price of the dissolution of Mr Gantz's Blue and White party and reneging on his key campaign promise not to serve under Mr Netanyahu, who has been indicted on corruption charges and faces an upcoming criminal trial.

Their much-scrutinised coalition deal, resulting in the most bloated government in Israeli history and potential clauses to help Mr Netanyahu cling to power, could only come about after the country's Supreme Court ruled it had no legal grounds to block it.

Despite the criticism, Mr Gantz argued that teaming with Mr Netanyahu offered the country its only way out of the prolonged stalemate and prevented another costly election.

The deal calls for Mr Netanyahu to serve as prime minister for the government's first 18 months before being replaced by Mr Gantz for the next 18 months, with their blocs having a similar number of ministers and virtual veto power over the other's major decisions.

The main point of contention has been the newly-created position of "alternate prime minister", a post that could allow Mr Netanyahu to remain in office even after the swap and throughout his corruption trial and a potential appeals process.

There are also deep suspicions about whether Mr Netanyahu will keep his part of the bargain and ultimately cede the premiership to Mr Gantz.

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

Mr Netanyahu has been indicted with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving trading favours with wealthy media moguls.

He denies any wrongdoing and blames the charges on a media-orchestrated plot to oust him.

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