17 months without government: How Israel finally got a coalition

A timeline of the elections, bargaining, deadlock and deal-making that led to the May 17 swearing-in of a new functioning government

Election campaign billboards for Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, in Tel Aviv on February 24, 2020. (Flash90)
Election campaign billboards for Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, in Tel Aviv on February 24, 2020. (Flash90)

Election on the horizon
On December 24, 2018, Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party announces that all the parties in the ruling coalition have agreed to hold elections in April 2019.

Two days later, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, votes to dissolve itself.

In the vote on April 9, 2019, Netanyahu — Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, in power since 2009 — hopes to prevail again despite being dogged by corruption allegations.

Netanyahu’s Likud and the Blue and White alliance of ex-military chief and centrist challenger Benny Gantz finish neck-and-neck.

President Reuven Rivlin (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem as Rivlin tasks Netanyahu with forming the next coalition, on April 17, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Knesset members choose Netanyahu, backed by smaller right-wing parties, to try to form a majority government.

But after weeks of political bargaining, he is unable to command a majority in the 120-seat parliament. The deadline expires and the Knesset agrees to hold a new election.

Another deadlock
In the next election on September 17, exit polls show another tight race.

Two days later, in a surprise, Netanyahu proposes a unity government to Gantz, who insists he would have to be the prime minister.

Official results released on September 25 confirm a deadlock, putting Gantz’s party at 33 seats against Likud’s 32.

Even with their respective allies, neither can muster the 61 seats needed for a majority. President Reuven Rivlin tasks Netanyahu with forming a government within 28 days.

Gantz refuses to join Netanyahu, citing his potential indictment on corruption charges.

On October 21, Netanyahu announces he has failed. Rivlin hands the task to Gantz.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L) is officially tasked by President Reuven Rivlin (R) to form the next coalition, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on October 23, 2019 (YouTube screenshot)

On November 20, Gantz informs Rivlin hours before his deadline that he too has been unable to form a government.

The following day, the attorney general charges Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. It is to be the first time a sitting prime minister faces trial in Israel.

Netanyahu rejects the charges, saying they are an attempt to remove him from government.

On December 11, as the deadline passes for the Knesset to find a head of government, lawmakers call a new election for March 2, 2020.

Third election within a year
This time around, Likud wins the most seats — 36 against 33 for Gantz’s party.

On March 15, Justice Minister Amir Ohana closes the court system during the coronavirus pandemic, leading to a postponement of Netanyahu’s graft trial to May 24.

The following day, Gantz, backed by 61 lawmakers, is nominated to try to form a new government, but fails.

On March 26, Gantz is elected Knesset speaker, raising fresh hopes of a unity government, but splitting his own party.

On April 16, Rivlin tasks the Knesset with forming a government after a deadline expires without the two sides reaching agreement.

The two camps announce, however, that negotiations have resumed.

Unity government
On April 20, with Israel on lockdown against the coronavirus and facing economic crisis, Netanyahu and Gantz announce a deal to form an emergency unity government.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sign their unity government agreement on April 20, 2020 (courtesy)

The three-year agreement will allow Netanyahu to stay in office for 18 months.

Gantz will then take over as premier for another 18 months before Israel heads to a new round of elections.

On April 25, thousands of Israelis demonstrate in Tel Aviv against the accord, which they say threatens democracy.

Supreme Court approves deal
On May 6, the Supreme Court rejects petitions against the coalition deal between Netanyahu and Gantz.

Lawmakers endorse the pact on May 7.

Rivlin tasks Netanyahu with forming a new government.

On May 14, the swearing-in of the unity government is postponed by three days to May 17, to give Netanyahu time to finalize cabinet assignments.

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