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Netanyahu To Remain Israel's Prime Minister In Deal With Election Rival

NOEL KING, HOST:

COVID-19 is helping Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stay in power in Israel. He and his main political rival signed a deal that will keep Netanyahu in office for another year and a half. And then the two men will trade places. Here's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: After three elections in less than a year, the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history failed to win a new term and was facing trial on corruption charges. Then the coronavirus became a crisis in Israel. Netanyahu declared a state of emergency. His corruption trial was postponed. And political rival Benny Gantz decided to abandon his center-left allies, break his promise to voters and give Netanyahu a lifeline. After weeks of negotiations, they signed a coalition deal last night to avert a fourth election and form an emergency government focused on the coronavirus. Political analyst Aviv Bushinsky explains why Gantz compromised.

AVIV BUSHINSKY: Going to a fourth election under these circumstance when we have this crisis in Israel, and also that there is no guarantee that they will get different results, he thought that maybe, for him, it's better to take the opportunity knowing that in a year and a half from now, he'll be the prime minister. And then he'll lead the country the way he thinks the country should be led.

ESTRIN: The deal also says that in July, Netanyahu can ask the Cabinet and the Parliament to approve the Trump administration's proposal to annex Jewish settlements and other lands in the Israeli occupied West Bank. Most countries oppose such a unilateral move on land Palestinians want for a future state. Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi.

HANAN ASHRAWI: This is a country that lives outside the law. This will put an end to any prospect for peace. All bets are off.

ESTRIN: The unity deal also gives Netanyahu veto power over the appointment of senior judicial officials who will have a role deciding his fate as he goes to trial next month.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF PENSEES' "LAGUNA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.