JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist election rival Benny Gantz signed an agreement on Monday to form an emergency coalition government that would end a year of political deadlock.
Netanyahu's right-wing Likud and Gantz's Blue and White party issued a joint statement saying they had clinched a unity deal, which follows elections in April and September 2019 and on March 2 in which neither won a governing majority in parliament.
Official details of the power-sharing deal were not immediately disclosed, but a source in Blue and White said the two had agreed Netanyahu would remain prime minister for a set period until Gantz takes over in October 2021.
Until then, Gantz, a former armed forces chief, will serve as defence minister and several of his political allies, including two members of Israel's Labour Party, will receive ministerial portfolios as well.
During the negotiations the parties cited a number of sticking points, including the planned annexation of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank where Palestinians seek a state, and setting a nomination process for judges.
The Palestinians condemned the formation of a new Israeli "annexation" government, saying the agreement would wreck hopes of peace.
"The formation of an Israeli annexation government means ending the two-state solution and the dismantling of the rights of the people of Palestine," Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh tweeted.
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Netanyahu, in power consecutively for the past 11 years, is under criminal indictment on corruption charges which he denies. They include bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Gantz on the campaign trail promised not to sit in a government led by a prime minister facing criminal charges, but he recently backtracked, saying the enormity of the coronavirus crisis necessitated an emergency unity government.
"We have prevented a fourth election. We will protect democracy. We will fight coronavirus and care for all Israel's citizens," Gantz said on Twitter after signing the deal. Netanyahu tweeted a picture of Israel's blue and white flag.