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World leaders, Pompeo congratulate Israel on new unity government

German Chancellor Merkel, Indian Prime Minister Modi, Austrian Chancellor Kurz issue congratulations to Netanyahu and Gantz, Israeli public

The first meeting of the new unity government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)
The first meeting of the new unity government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)

Several world leaders and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Israel on Sunday on the formation of its new government.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote that she was looking forward to continuing cooperation with him.

“Germany will continue to stand up for Israel and for peace in the Middle East. I wish you and all Israeli citizens strength, determination and success in fighting the coronavirus pandemic,” Merkel wrote.

Her foreign minister, Heiko Maas, published three tweets — from his personal and professional accounts — to congratulate his new counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi.

“The close partnership and friendship between Germany and Israel are very dear to me personally. Therefore, I am looking forward to our future cooperation!” he wrote.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued tweets in both English and Hebrew to Netanyahu and alternate prime minister Benny Gantz.

“Mazel tov my friend Netanyahu for forming your fifth government in Israel. I wish you and [Gantz] success and look forward to continue working closely with your government to further strengthen India-Israel strategic partnership,” Modi wrote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi (R) attend an Israeli-Indian economic conference in New Delhi on January 15, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz expressed “sincere congratulations” to Netanyahu, vowing to further deepen the “excellent relations” between Vienna and Jerusalem.

“We’ll continue our efforts to fight antisemitism and anti-Zionism in all its forms,” he wrote.

Kurz also sent his best wishes to the freshly sworn-in alternate prime minister.

“As I have stressed in the past, Israel’s security is not negotiable for Austria,” he said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted a photo of himself with Netanyahu and wrote: “We warmly welcome the announcement of the formation of a new Government of Israel. We are extremely fortunate to have such strong and experienced partners in Jerusalem, and we will work together to advance the security and prosperity of our peoples.”

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman wrote, “Congratulations and Mazal Tov to PM Netanyahu, [alternate prime minister] & [Minister of Defense] Gantz, the State of Israel and the People of Israel on the formation of a new government. The United States looks forward to working with you to enhance our already incredibly strong relationship & unbreakable bond.”

Austria’s foreign minister, Alexander Schallenberg, said he was looking forward to working with Ashkenazi, as did Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius.

Israel’s 35th government was sworn in at the Knesset on Sunday, bringing an end to a 508-day political deadlock during which lawmakers were unable to cobble together a coalition.

The Knesset voted 73-46 in favor of the new government.

Likud leader Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister and will head the government for the fifth term of his political career.

Blue and White chairman Gantz was sworn in as “alternate prime minister and future prime minister” as well as minister of defense. Netanyahu promised from the podium to hand over the premiership to Gantz on November 17, 2021.

In addition to Netanyahu and Gantz, 32 ministers were sworn in, including the first female ultra-Orthodox minister, Omer Yankelevich (Diaspora affairs), and the first Ethiopia-born minister, Pnina Tamano-Shata (immigration and absorption), in Israel’s history. A 35th slot, for a minister for minority affairs, has yet to be filled by Blue and White.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz pictured after the presentation of the 35th government of Israel at the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

Totaling 73 lawmakers, the coalition will include 35 MKs from the Likud party, 16 from the Blue and White party, nine from the Shas party, seven from the United Torah Judaism party, two from the Labor party, two from the Derech Eretz party, one from the Jewish Home party and one from the Gesher party.

Speaking at the cabinet’s first meeting, which took place in the Knesset’s Chagall Hall immediately after the swearing-in ceremony, Netanyahu told the new ministers that the pandemic tops the government’s agenda.

“The first mission is the coronavirus and the health” crisis, he said. “So long as the virus is here and there is no vaccine, it can come back overnight.”

“The fact that we managed to prevent it [from spreading widely] doesn’t mean we can prevent” another wave, said Netanyahu, stressing that the “coronavirus routine” will last for a long time. “I don’t want to say how long,” he said, but added that he hoped to be proven wrong.

The second mission, he continued, would be to pass a state budget and revive the economy, which he acknowledged may not quickly be restored to its pre-coronavirus state.

The third item would be to combat Iran, he said.

The fourth was fighting the war crimes probe in the International Criminal Court. “This is a troubling development… This is a strategic threat” to Israel and the IDF, he said, adding that he rarely used such language.

The fifth was the diplomatic issue of West Bank annexation. “I don’t hide my intention to bring it quickly to the cabinet,” he said.

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