Via – Yahoo! News

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his erstwhile rival Benny Gantz on Sunday announced “significant progress” in talks towards forming an emergency unity government amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Gantz, whose now fractured centrist Blue and White alliance had positioned itself as the alternative to Netanyahu in three inconclusive elections over the past year, was elected parliament speaker Thursday.

The two men held talks through Saturday night “aimed at establishing a national emergency government to deal with the corona crisis and the additional challenges facing the State of Israel”, said a joint statement from Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud party.

“Significant progress was made during the meeting,” it added. “During the course of the day, an additional meeting will be held in order to come to a finalized agreement.”

Both leaders have previously voiced support for a unity government to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Gantz was tasked with forming a government following March 2 elections — a task he had already been unable to complete after two national polls last year — and there was no guarantee he would succeed this time, given rifts within the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

The former chief of Israel’s army, Gantz has subsequently tempered his long-time opposition to working with Netanyahu, due to the dangers presented by the coronavirus.

But that move has provoked an implosion of the anti-Netanyahu block Gantz had led.

A parliamentary committee on Sunday afternoon formalized Blue and White’s fracture, with Gantz’s faction keeping that name.

The dissidents were rebranded as Yesh Atid-Telem, incorporating the Yair Lapid and Moshe Yaalon parties.

“We will keep a watchful eye over the work of this government and create a real alternative for the State of Israel,” the new grouping said in a statement after the split.

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