14:05 GMT29 May 2020
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    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the chief of the Israel Resilience Party Benny Gantz are set to sign an agreement on forming a unity government on Monday, Israeli media reported.

    Gantz split from his previous partners, who were reluctant to sit in a government with Netanyahu, on Thursday, dividing the Blue and White alliance into two parties and sparking a barrage of negative comments on social media against him.

    Ronny Inbar from the town of Shoham in central Israel was one of those Blue and White voters who took Gantz's decision close to heart. 

    "I am disappointed with Gantz. I thought he would keep his word and would protect the rule of law. I didn't think he would join Netanyahu, at least not at this stage".

    Lesser of Evils

    During the three election campaigns Gantz and his party ran under the banner that they would not sit under a prime minister who was indicted in a series of graft probes which included buying positive press and receiving illegal gifts from a rich donor.

    Yet, once Gantz received the mandate to form a government he quickly realised that joining Netanyahu would be the lesser evil. The option of heading to the polls for a fourth time would have cost Israeli taxpayers some $840 million and dealt a severe blow to the country's economy. 

    Traffic moves past a Blue and White party election campaign poster, depicting party leader Benny Gantz, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Tel Aviv, Israel February 18, 2020.
    Traffic moves past a Blue and White party election campaign poster, depicting party leader Benny Gantz, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Tel Aviv, Israel February 18, 2020.

    The other option, namely establishing a coalition with incompatible partners that include the hawkish Yisrael Beitenu and the anti-Zionist and anti-Israel alliance of Arab parties, was far worse, not only because it created an objection within his own party but also because of the uproar it caused among the Israeli public.

    Another factor that pushed Gantz to unity with Netanyahu was the outbreak of COVID-19, which has claimed the lives of a dozen Israelis. As more and more Israelis were diagnosed with the deadly virus, calls urging Gantz to put differences aside intensified, becoming more difficult to ignore.

    For Inbar, however, that was not a good enough reason for Gantz to give up on his principles. "There is no need to be in the government to tackle the issue of corona. He could have easily backed any virus related decisions from the opposition too".

    Public Wants Unity

    The problem is that the majority of Blue and White voters didn't want to see Gantz and his party sit in the opposition. According to Israel's Channel 12, 61 percent of those asked indicated that they would favour a unity government with Netanyahu, with only 14 percent backing the idea of serving the country from the opposition.

    The general public showed similar trends. In November 2019, a poll conducted by Israel Hayom, a daily newspaper associated with right-wing circles, revealed that 40 percent of Israelis backed a unity government.

    Now, when the notion of unity is not that far off, it is only the matter of concessions that Netanyahu and Gantz are willing to make in order for the union to work.

    Reports suggest that most of the points have already been agreed upon. The coalition that will be comprised of 78 parliamentarians is to include 58 members from the Netanyahu-led bloc, while Gantz is said to have some 20 parliamentarians, many of whom are expected to receive key ministerial positions within the new government. 

    The agreement also stipulates that Netanyahu will remain prime minister until 2021, with Gantz serving as his deputy and the country's foreign minister. Once the year is up, they will swap posts.

    However, Inbar says he wouldn't trust Netanyahu to keep his word. "First of all, Gantz doesn't have any written agreement with Netanyahu yet. And, secondly, even if he had one, it doesn't mean Netanyahu will relinquish his post in 2021. The political cemetery is full of bodies left by Bibi. Gantz too will be his victim, with or without an agreement".

    Inbar is not alone. According to Channel 12, 46 percent of Israelis were certain Netanyahu would not keep his word, with only 38 percent believing he would relinquish power once his turn was up. At the same time, despite fears, the majority of Israelis - 61 percent - backed Gantz's decision to go for a unity government with Netanyahu.

    But not Inbar. "This move of his [splitting the party and joining Netanyahu - ed.] will not contribute to his success. Gantz has burnt himself. I will never vote for him again".
    unity, Israel, Israel, government, Blue and White Party, Benjamin Netanyahu, Benny Gantz
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