- The vote was 73 in favor, 46 opposed to the new unity government.
- Netanyahu emphasized the annexation of West Bank territories.
- The government is the largest, in terms of ministerial portfolios, in Israeli history.
The Israeli Knesset today approved the new government of national unity between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz. The vote brings to an end the longest political crisis in the modern history of the Jewish state. Today’s vote came after Thursday’s postponement, giving it an outright majority.
Seventy-three MKs voted in favor of the new government arrangement, twelve more than necessary in the 120-member Knesset. Forty-six voted in opposition to the coalition. “The people wanted unity, and that is what it got,” Netanyahu told the Knesset, citing a desire to steer clear of a fourth election and the need for a national battle against the coronavirus crisis.
The vote in the Knesset was postponed from Thursday to today to give Netanyahu time to wind up the allocation of ministerial portfolios in his right-wing party, Likud. Even before the session, Netanyahu insisted that West Bank settlements should be annexed.
“It’s time to apply the Israeli law and write another glorious chapter in the history of Zionism,” Netanyahu said, on the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The move is interpreted as one likely to lead to an international uproar and bring about tensions in the West Bank. The territory is home to close to three million Palestinians, and some 400,000 Israelis living in settlements considered illegal under international law.
“This won’t distance peace, it will bring it closer,” Netanyahu told the Knesset. “These settlements will be part of Israel in any scenario.” He added, “these areas of the country are birthplaces of the Jewish nation. It’s time to apply Israeli law over them.” In the past decade, the population of Israeli settlements has increased by 50% in the West Bank. Israeli settlers are outnumbered by Palestinian residents 6 to 1.
After 500 days of twists and turns, three inconclusive elections, and fruitless negotiations, Netanyahu and Gantz signed a three-year government agreement. Netanyahu will remain Prime Minister for the first 18 months, then Gantz for the next 18 months. Netanyahu’s trial for corruption, in three different cases, is expected to begin at the end of the month.
Thousands of Israelis were opposed to the unity government deal, arguing that it was an outright threat to democracy. Several organizations raised doubts about the legality of the agreement, and even moved to the country’s Supreme Court, which eventually validated it nonetheless.
In the Netanyahu-Gantz arrangement, ministerial portfolios must also be distributed equally. Each side is free to assign them to allied parties, which both Gantz and Netanyahu have done. “Everything revolves around the allocation of seats. This government does not seem to have an ideology,” the daily Yedioth Ahronoth noted Thursday.
The negotiations had ensured that “there was no substantive debate” on the directions of the government, the heaviest in the history of Israel with ultimately 36 ministers. The unity government has it’s job clearly cut out. Aside from battling the new coronavirus pandemic crisis, it is also tasked on strengthening the nation’s economy and unifying the Jewish state.