After three deadlocked elections between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former military chief Benny Gantz, the two men agreed late Monday to establish a unity government.
Netanyahu, representing right-wing party Likud, will remain Israel's prime minister while Blue and White party leader Gantz will serve as defense minister and deputy prime minister. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister.
The agreement was a surprise to many Gantz supporters after his repeated campaign vows declaring he would never serve with a prime minister under criminal indictment.
Netanyahu is facing charges of fraud and bribery in three corruption cases. The courts have been suspended during the coronavirus crisis, delaying the start of his trial.
With Gantz receiving more support from lawmakers, he was the first to propose a coalition government and originally planned to end Netanyahu's run as prime minister. But with the growing coronavirus threat, he accepted Netanyahu's offer for a joint government.
"We prevented a fourth election," Gantz said Monday night on Twitter. "We will preserve democracy. We will fight the coronavirus and take care of all of Israel's citizens."
Starting July 1, Netanyahu will be allowed to present any agreement reached with the U.S. regarding annexing parts of the West Bank to the Cabinet and then to parliament for a vote. The Security Cabinet and government will have equal representation of the two parties. A coronavirus cabinet will be formed – jointly led by Netanyahu and Gantz – to deal with pandemic.
Monday's agreement will preclude the need for a fourth election in little more than a year. The arrangement is expected to be approved by Israel's parliament.