Israel’s parliament began voting on Wednesday on laws approving a coalition deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival-turned-ally Benny Gantz, ahead of a deadline to avoid yet another election.
The alliance formed last month between the right-wing incumbent and his centrist challenger followed three inconclusive elections in less than a year.
Under the three-year deal, Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for 18 months, with Gantz as his alternate, a new position in Israeli governance.
They will swap roles midway through the deal, with cabinet positions split between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White alliance, as well as their respective allies.
The deal could offer Israel rare political stability as it seeks to repair the economic damage wrought by the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 16,000 people in the country.
But the pact’s opponents have sought to torpedo it in the Supreme Court and in parliament.
Lawmakers have begun voting on various bills to enact the coalition deal. With individual votes scheduled on each of the roughly 1,000 amendments proposed by the deal’s opponents, a definitive outcome is not expected until Thursday.
But the coalition appears to have the 61 votes needed in the 120-seat parliament for approval.
If the deal passes, parliament would then ask President Reuven Rivlin to give Netanyahu a mandate to form a government.
With a presidential mandate, Netanyahu would have two weeks to finalise his coalition, including ongoing haggling over cabinet jobs.
Former Gantz ally Yair Lapid, poised to become parliament’s opposition leader, blasted what he termed an excessive focus on ministerial positions.
“A single mother with two children who lives in a rented apartment and lost her job will be on the street next month,” because of the coronavirus pandemic, Lapid said.
“That’s what we should be dealing with, not which politician gets which job.”
If the unexpected happens and parliament does not endorse Netanyahu for prime minister by midnight Thursday, Israel could be forced to hold its fourth election in less than two years, a prospect dreaded across the political spectrum.
In a hearing this week, the Supreme Court heard arguments from eight petitioners seeking to block the deal, including Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party.
A key issue is whether Netanyahu is legally allowed to form a government while under criminal indictment
He is charged with accepting improper gifts and illegally trading favours in exchange for positive media coverage.
He denies wrongdoing and his trial is set to start on May 24.
While Israeli law bars ministers from serving while under indictment, there is no such law for prime ministers.
Many legal experts have said the 11-judge panel hearing the case will likely follow guidance from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who indicted Netanyahu, but who also told the court there was no legal impediment to him forming a government.