Benny Gantz Given Chance To Form New Government In Israel

Mar 16, 2020
Originally published on March 16, 2020 4:54 pm
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Will Israel's long-serving prime minister be replaced? Benjamin Netanyahu says during the coronavirus epidemic, it is not time to change leaders. But retired Army Gen. Benny Gantz was given the chance to form a new government. From Jerusalem, NPR's Daniel Estrin has this update.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: While Israelis have been consumed with the coronavirus crisis, a political drama has unfolded in the country. After this month's inconclusive elections - the third in a year - retired Gen. Benny Gantz has gained the upper hand. A thin majority of lawmakers in the newly elected parliament announced they want him to be prime minister. Today Israel's president officially tasked Gantz with the job of building a governing coalition. He's got a few weeks to do it, but pledges to do so within days.

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BENNY GANTZ: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: In a speech, Gantz said, "the government I will lead will repair Israeli society from the coronavirus and from the virus of division, hate and hate mongering." Gantz is a centrist. He accuses the right-wing Netanyahu of pitting right versus left, Jew versus Arab. He also accuses Netanyahu of trying to dodge corruption charges he faces. This week, Netanyahu's justice minister declared a state of emergency in the courts due to the coronavirus, and that led to a postponement of Netanyahu's bribery trial that was set to open tomorrow.

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: Netanyahu has called on Gantz to put politics aside. Netanyahu is proposing staying in office and heading an emergency government to tackle the coronavirus. He has high public approval ratings about the steps he's taken so far, effectively locking Israel's borders and sending tens of thousands of Israelis into home quarantine. Gantz's says only realistic option for forming his own government without Netanyahu is one that would be controversial among many Jewish Israelis because he would have to rely on the support of Arab parties, which don't accept Israel as a Jewish state. Israeli political analyst Gideon Rahat thinks Gantz is likely to seek a deal that would have him and Netanyahu share the prime minister duties.

GIDEON RAHAT: There is a potential for compromise now because - especially because of the situation. People are not - do not really want to have another election, so there are pressures there for compromise. And I think when the situation would become worse when it comes to corona - will become worse, very likely - there will - this pressure would be even stronger.

ESTRIN: For now, Gantz is putting Netanyahu in a corner. After the new parliament was sworn in today, elbow bumps replacing handshakes in the disinfected chamber, Gantz introduced a bill aimed at blocking an indicted prime minister from being able to form a future government.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.