Netanyahu secures backing to form new Israeli government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formally received the support of a majority of lawmakers to lead a new government, paving the way for a controversial power-sharing deal with his rival-turned-partner

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally received the support of a majority of lawmakers to lead a new government on Thursday, paving the way for a controversial power-sharing deal with rival-turned-partner Benny Gantz.

Later in the day, Israel's figurehead president, Reuven Rivlin, assigned Netanyahu the task of forming a government within two weeks, after he received the signatures of 72 lawmakers endorsing the Likud party leader as prime minister.

Israel's parliament, the Knesset, had passed legislation early Thursday approving a new coalition government framework for Netanyahu and Gantz to share the premiership and end a year-long political deadlock.

The legislation, which passed easily in a 72-36 vote, comes a day after Israel's Supreme Court ruled that it would not intervene in the new arrangement or prevent Netanyahu from leading the government despite a corruption indictment against him.

The decision essentially ended the country's prolonged political stalemate and prevented Israel from being plunged into a fourth consecutive election in just over a year.

After battling to three inconclusive elections over the past year and with polls predicting a continued stalemate, Netanyahu and Gantz, a former military chief, announced last month they would be joining forces to steer the country through the coronavirus crisis and its severe economic fallout.

Critics and good-government groups said their deal was illegal and challenged it in the Supreme Court. They argued that the law should bar an official charged with serious crimes from continuing as prime minister. They also objected to the newly created position of “alternate prime minister,” a post that could allow Netanyahu to remain in office throughout his corruption trial and a potential appeals process.

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

Over two days of deliberations this week, the court considered the arguments before ruling there were no legal grounds to prevent the government from taking office.

Netanyahu has been indicted with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving trading favors with wealthy media moguls. His trial is set to start later this month.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing, and since his indictment last fall, he has repeatedly lashed out at the country’s legal system. He and his political allies have taken special aim at the high court, accusing it of overreach and political interference.

Gantz, who is to serve as defense minister during the government's first 18 months before taking over from Netanyahu as premier, insists his presence will temper the assault on the legal establishment and install a sense of decorum to counter the divisiveness that had characterized Netanyahu's successive caretaker governments.

Still, their unorthodox arrangement, in which each will have virtual veto power over the other’s decisions, required the new legislation that was harshly criticized by the opposition and civil rights groups.