After three inconclusive elections and more than a year of caretaker government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz took office Sunday in a deal to put aside their disagreements and share power in a unity government they say was necessitated by the coronavirus crisis.
Netanyahu begins his fifth consecutive term as prime minister one week before he goes on trial for corruption charges. Under their coalition agreement, he and Gantz will switch places in 18 months, though Netanyahu will continue living in the prime minister's official residence.
The coalition forestalls a fourth election and establishes a government as Israel manages the pandemic.
"The majority of the public is glad to accept a unity government," Netanyahu said, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. "The public wants a unity government and that's what the public is getting today."
Gantz had campaigned in all three elections on a pledge not to join a government led by Netanyahu. His reversal led some members of his center-left coalition to split off and refuse to join the government.
The new government will have a record 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers, nearly half the 120-member Knesset, Israel's parliament. Gantz described the government as broadly representative and therefore more effective.
"The people told us to stop fighting and start working for them," Gantz said. He will be defense minister before taking Netanyahu's place as prime minister in 2021, should the government endure.
The coalition is riven by profound disagreements on some of Israel's most pressing problems.
Netanyahu's Likud Party wants to put limits on Israel's independent judiciary, which Gantz's Blue and White Party condemns as antidemocratic.
And looming over all is pressure from Israel's right wing to annex much of the occupied West Bank, an action called for in President Trump's peace plan. Netanyahu has said he wants to do so as soon as this summer. Gantz is reluctant without the support of the international community, which strongly opposes annexation.