Israel lawmakers endorse Netanyahu-Gantz government

The Israeli parliament backed the coalition deal by 71 votes to 37, a statement said. Above, an electoral billboard featuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 07 May 2020

Israel lawmakers endorse Netanyahu-Gantz government

  • The two men plan to swear in their new administration on May 13, with Netanyahu remaining leader for 18 months, before handing over to Gantz

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received crucial support in his bid to form a unity government Thursday, inching closer to ending more than a year of political deadlock.
Lawmakers first voted in favour of a coalition pact between Israel's longest-serving leader and his erstwhile rival Benny Gantz, then called on President Reuven Rivlin to task Netanyahu with forming that government.
The coalition deal will see the rightwing veteran premier share power with Gantz, a centrist former military chief.
The two men plan to swear in their new administration on May 13, with Netanyahu remaining leader for 18 months, before handing over to Gantz.
The other will serve as alternate PM, a newly created position.
Representatives of Netanyahu's Likud party and Gantz's Blue and White presented Rivlin's office with a request, signed by 72 of the country's 120 MPs, that Netanyahu be mandated to form a government.
It was delivered hours ahead of a midnight (2100 GMT Thursday) deadline.
A statement from the presidency said the law allowed up to two days for possible objections before the process was finalised.
The proposed government had also been challenged in the high court, with opponents arguing Netanyahu was ineligible due to corruption indictments.
But the court ruled on Wednesday evening that there was "no legal reason to prevent the formation of a government" led by Netanyahu.
It added that the allegations against Netanyahu could be addressed in his trial, due to begin on May 24.
Netanyahu has been written off by pundits and rivals many times since taking power in 2009, but the man sometimes dubbed "the magician" has invariably found ways to remain in the hot seat.
As well as rebuilding an economy shaken by the coronavirus, the new government will also decide on the possible annexation of large parts of the West Bank, a move from which successive governments have refrained since Israel occupied the territory in the Six-Day War of 1967.
Israel has been without a stable government since December 2018, holding three successive elections in which Gantz's centrist Blue and White and Netanyahu's Likud were near neck-and-neck.
Netanyahu has remained in power in a caretaker capacity throughout.
In January, he was charged with accepting improper gifts and illegally trading favours in exchange for positive media coverage.
He denies wrongdoing, but if the trial goes ahead as planned he will become the first serving Israeli leader to be tried.
After the third election in March, Gantz broke with large parts of Blue and White and agreed to form a unity government.
He said it was necessary to provide political stability as the country seeks to repair the economic damage wrought by a coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 16,000 people.
Gantz's critics, including many former allies, accused him of betraying his voters after campaigning for cleaner politics and pledging not to serve under an indicted prime minister.
"Never have so few cheated so many voters for such miserable reasons," former Gantz ally Yair Lapid, poised to become opposition leader, tweeted Thursday.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, said neither Gantz nor Netanyahu had faith in the other's intentions.
"There is zero trust -- this is probably the main characteristic of this political agreement," he told journalists.
"Therefore a new regime was created whereby we have two prime ministers, both with veto power."

Adib presents government proposal to Aoun as Hezbollah pressure grows

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on September 17, 2020 shows Lebanon's President Michel Aoun (L) meeting with Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut. (AFP)
Updated 49 min 21 sec ago

Adib presents government proposal to Aoun as Hezbollah pressure grows

  • Economic experts said on Friday that the continuing debates about the formation of the government are a “waste of precious time,” which is a luxury Lebanon does not have

LEBANON: As Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib continues his efforts to form a new government, on Friday he presented to President Michel Aoun a proposal for “distributing the ministries to various sects before setting a final formula on who will be nominated to these ministries,” sources said. The two men will meet again on Saturday for further discussions.

Adib is facing sustained pressure from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, who have raised their demands to insist that all ministerial positions are filled by Shiites, and not only the key role of minister of finance.

This has jeopardized his efforts to form a “government that satisfies everybody,” based on a French initiative that calls for the appointment of a small team of independent specialists representing all religious sects, who are not members of the main political parties.

Government sources said: “Adib, during his meeting with representatives of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement on Thursday evening, refused to accept from them a list of names of Shiites from which to choose a minister of finance.”

During his Friday sermon the following day, the Grand Jaafari Mufti Ahmad Qabalan said: “We insist on nominating our ministers and we refuse to accept that anyone else will do that for us, no matter who he is.”

Economic experts said on Friday that the continuing debates about the formation of the government are a “waste of precious time,” which is a luxury Lebanon does not have. They criticized the continued prioritization of political interests over the best interests of the country and warned that “it is a matter of life or death for the Lebanese people.”

They pointed out “thousands have lost their businesses and tens of thousands have lost their jobs, and 55 percent of the Lebanese people are living below the poverty line. There is a shortage of essential products, and the reserves of the Banque du Liban (the Lebanese Central Bank) have withered away.” Meanwhile there has been a brain drain of professionals and businessmen leaving the country, “which threatens to deprive Lebanon of one of its strongest and most important assets.”

Adib faced further obstacles from Hezbollah allies on Friday when Suleiman Frangieh, leader of the Marada Movement, announced that he does not agree that the Prime Minister-designate should choose who represents his party in the government without consulting with him.

Meanwhile, Talal Arslan, leader of the Lebanese Democratic Party, called on Adib to “show respect to parliamentary blocks.”

Others warned that the president cannot approve a list of ministers he does not know, and that giving a Shiite party the finance portfolio must not deny other sects the right to ministries that they claim.

“The French initiative is blocked due to the conflict between particular interests and regional and international calculations,” said Lebanese MP Bilal Abdallah. “The country cannot stand this any more and it might collapse if things continue the way they are.”

He added that he hopes Adib will continue his efforts to form a government and give the French initiative a chance.

Lebanese academic Dr. Hares Sleiman said: “The options of Hezbollah and Amal Movement are determined by their priorities: do they want to defend Iran’s quota … or do they want to have the livelihood of the Lebanese people as their priority, including their supporters and the Shiites of Lebanon?”

He added: “(Amal Movement leader and Speaker of the Parliament Nabih) Berri wants the Ministry of Finance at a time when there is a shortage of money, and the international community is demanding the dismissal of those who are corrupt and the implementation of reforms to save the Lebanese economy.

“So would Berri accept an independent government that satisfies the demands of protesters in the streets so that Lebanon would enjoy internal, Arab and international support? If he does that, he would be conspiring against Hezbollah and its allies in power. If he does not, then the caretaker government of Hassan Diab will stay, and the crisis and the sanctions will continue.”