Israel delays swearing-in of unity government until tomorrow

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel has postponed the swearing-in of its long-awaited unity government, which had been set for Thursday, following a request for a three-day delay by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

After more than 500 days in limbo, three inconclusive elections in less than a year and a power-sharing agreement between Netanyahu and former rival Benny Gantz, it appeared the country’s unprecedented political crisis had finally ended.

But Netanyahu asked Gantz to postpone the swearing-in until tomorrow so he could finalise Cabinet assignments among his right-wing Likud party, said a statement from Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White alliance.

“Gantz agreed to Netanyahu’s request,” the statement said.

Netanyahu and former military chief Gantz agreed to a three-year coalition government last month, with cabinet position split among their respective allies. But in the three weeks since the deal was agreed, haggling over key posts has been fierce within Netanyahu’s camp.

Netanyahu, in power since 2009, had informed Israel President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday that had his government had been finalised.

Thursday’s statement did not spell out the unresolved issues.

Under the coalition deal, Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for the coming 18 months, a victory for a leader due to stand trial from May 24 on corruption charges, which he denies.

Gantz will be alternate prime minister – a new position in Israeli governance – for the first half of the deal, before he and Netanyahu swap roles.