(JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, a centrist opposition party leader, have formed an emergency unity government to prosecute Israel’s war against Hamas.
The formation of the wartime coalition means Netanyahu and Gantz have put aside bitter schisms — over the government’s judicial overhaul and other issues — that have split the country over the past year. It reflects the country’s singular focus on waging war against Hamas — whose invasion of Israel on Saturday killed more than 1,200 Israelis and wounded thousands more — and other terror groups.
Gantz is a former defense defense minister and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff. He is currently the head of the National Unity party in Israel’s Knesset. Under the agreement, Netanyahu, Gantz and current Defense Minister Yoav Gallant will form a three-person emergency cabinet to manage the war.
The cabinet will also have two observers: Gadi Eizenkot, a member of Gantz’s party who was also a former IDF chief of staff, and Ron Dermer, Israel’s strategic affairs minister and a close Netanyahu ally.
“After a meeting between the prime minister and the chairman of the National Unity party that took place today, the two agreed on establishing an emergency government and a war management cabinet,” Netanyahu and Gantz said in a joint message released by the Knesset.
The announcement said a place had been reserved in the cabinet for Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, another centrist, “if he joins.”
The government will not propose laws or decisions unrelated to war until the conflict finishes, the statement said. All senior government appointments that were set to expire will be automatically extended.
Five members of the National Unity party will be added to the existing security cabinet, which is a separate body from the three-person emergency cabinet and generally manages Israeli security policy.
Members of the far-right Otzma Yehudit, or Jewish Power, party hailed the agreement, as did lawmakers from Netanyahu’s Likud party. Public Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who leads Otzma Yehudit, wrote on X, “I welcome unity, now we need to win.”
This is not the first time that Gantz, who has run against Netanyahu in a series of elections, has joined up with him to address a crisis. The two men formed a short-lived unity government in 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic, but it collapsed after about a year. Gantz subsequently helped form another short-lived coalition that unseated Netanyahu in 2021.