As the coronavirus continued to sweep across Israel, it seemed like embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was catching a break.
Over the weekend, due to a “state of extraordinary emergency,” the acting Justice Minister issued an order to postpone Netanyahu’s criminal trial — during which he will face charges of bribery, corruption, and fraud — for 10 weeks until the end of May.
At the same time, Netanyahu and the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, got the needed approval from the Attorney General to employ highly-criticized surveillance technology that tracks the every move of people in the country afflicted with the virus.
But just as things seemed to be working in Netanyahu’s favor, his rival Benny Gantz surprisingly received a majority, albeit a very slight one, of recommendations from Knesset lawmakers, landing him the opportunity to form a government.
The news came as a shock to many after both the Arab Joint List, who have likened Gantz to Netanyahu, and the secular right wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, lead by former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, backed Gantz and his Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) party.
In the past two election cycles, Lieberman has refused to join a coalition that would include the Joint List, which he has called “enemies” of Israel, ultimately forcing a stalemate and new elections.
Gantz also received the support of the left-wing Labor-Meretz coalition.
Despite receiving the backing of 61 MKs, Gantz is likely to face an uphill battle, as Netanyahu and others push for the formation of an emergency unity government to deal with the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin summoned both Gantz and Netanyahu on Sunday, urging the two to form a unity government in order to tackle the coronavirus crisis, saying the country would not be able to handle a fourth round of elections.
Gantz had previously declined a proposal by Netanyahu to form an emergency unity government, dismissing it as another political ploy by the premiere.
“Someone who wants unity does not postpone their trial at 1 A.M.,” Gantz said, referring to the postponement of Netnayahu’s trial which was carried out hastily in the middle of the night.
By Monday morning, however, the tides seemed to have turned as Gantz announced that he would form a broad unity government “within days,” and was continuing talks with Netanyhau’s camp, at the behest of Rivlin.
“These are not normal days,” Haaretz quoted Gantz as saying, adding that his government would “heal the Israeli society of the coronavirus, as well of the virus of hatred and division.”
For now, Gantz and Kahol Lavan are reportedly working quickly to form a unity government. If that fails, they will revert back to forming a government with the support of the Joint List and Yisrael Beiteinu.
As the number of coronavirus cases in Israeli continues to rise, with 250 cases reported as of Monday, the pressure is on for Gantz to prove that he can end Israel’s political deadlock, without giving Netanyahu the “coronavirus win” that he desires.