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Israel Government swearing-in pushed off to Thursday against backdrop of Pompeo visit

Israel’s 35th government will be officially installed on Thursday, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, in his role as Knesset speaker, informed parliament Monday afternoon, bringing to an end 16 months of political turmoil wrought by three inconclusive elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Blue and White had previously said that their “emergency national unity government,” to be made up also of the United Torah Judaism, Shas, Labor and Gesher parties, would be sworn in Wednesday, once final decisions were made regarding ministerial appointments.

The one-day delay comes after the announcement of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Wednesday visit to Israel, when he will meet with both Netanyahu and Gantz.

The head of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in the State Department, David Schenker, said last week that the trip was in the works before it became clear that the swearing-in ceremony would happen on the same day.

Blue and White officials told The Times of Israel that the delay had nothing to do with Pompeo’s visit, nor did it signal disagreements between the sides over ministerial positions.

A spokesman for Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, however, told AFP the delay was “because of the visit” of the US top diplomat.

Completing a remarkable turnaround that will see him retain the premiership for at least the next 18 months, Netanyahu was endorsed last Thursday as prime minister by 72 Knesset members, paving the way for him to finalize coalition agreements with other parties and swear in the new government.

The endorsements came hours after constitutional changes underpinning the Likud-Blue and White power-sharing deal were approved by the Knesset and less than a day after the country’s top court rejected eight petitions against the deal and Netanyahu’s right to set up a new government when under indictment.

The coalition deal between Netanyahu and Gantz will see the two share the premiership over the emerging government’s term. Under the deal, Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for the first 18 months, followed by Gantz. The two can also agree to extend the government’s three-year term by another year if they choose.

Despite being under criminal indictment, and amid incessant predictions of his political downfall, Netanyahu has continued to helm the transitional government over the past year and a half, during what is widely seen as the worst political crisis in Israel’s history.

Gantz had run in all three elections as the alternative to Netanyahu but agreed last month to negotiate a coalition deal, angering his allies. He cited the coronavirus emergency as a reason for compromising and reneging on his vow not to serve in a government under Netanyahu as long as he remained under indictment.

The new government could offer Israel a rare period of political stability as it seeks to repair the economic damage wrought by the virus, which has infected more than 16,000 people in the country and caused some 250 deaths.

Under the coalition deal, the government is to be defined as an “emergency” body for its first six months, tasked exclusively with combating the coronavirus. But the coalition agreement also permits Netanyahu to introduce a West Bank annexation proposal to the government after July 1, even if Gantz objects.

Pompeo’s trip is expected to deal with the proposal.

Annexation advocates believe they have a narrow window to redraw the Mideast map before November’s US presidential election. They also believe it would give US President Donald Trump a boost with pro-Israel voters, particularly the politically influential evangelical Christian community.

The presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has said he opposes unilateral moves by Israel in keeping with what had been decades of US policy prior to Trump.

The annexation agreement says that any step must be coordinated with the US while also keeping regional stability and peace agreements in consideration.

Netanyahu’s plan to annex portions of the West Bank has been met with harsh criticism from nearly the entire international community, including Washington’s European allies and key Arab partners, with the prominent exception of the United States. Trump’s much-vaunted Mideast peace plan allows for the possibility of US recognition of such annexations provided Israel agrees to negotiate under the framework of the proposal that was unveiled in January.

Header: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on April 29, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv/Flash90)

Original: TOI