March 26 (UPI) -- In a surprising twist Thursday, the Israel opposition Blue and White Party broke up after its leader Benny Gantz decided to enter Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government after coalition talks with the Likud Party.
The move cleared the way for Gantz to be elected interim Knesset speaker on a 74-18 vote, while his former party allies, Yesh Atid, Labor and Yisrael Beytenu boycotted.
The battle between Netanyahu and Gantz, along with their parties, had turned bitter over the course of three national elections and neither gained a majority, making Thursday's so stunning.
Blue and White, a coalition of three smaller Israeli opposition parties to Likud, broke up after Gantz threw his hat in the ring to become interim Knesset speaker to buy time for continued negotiations with Likud.
Gantz's home Hosen L'Israel Party will join Netanyahu's government where Gantz will serve as foreign minister with several of his party members finding spots in Netanyahu's cabinet. Netanyahu's supporters will serve as finance minister and Knesset speaker.
The deal would allow for Gantz to become prime minister in September 2021.
Knesset member Meir Cohen, who had been favored by Blue and White to become speaker until Thursday's surprise move, said he supported a unity government, but felt his coalition should have led the effort.
"We did not oppose unity, certainly not in such an hour," said Cohen, who led Yesh Atid before joining Blue and White. "But we thought that we should first and foremost insist on democracy on integrity. All these were rudely quashed today by those who were in a rush [to join the government]. It could have been different."
Israel's High Court of Justice had ordered an interim speaker to lead the Knesset and stage a vote Thursday to determine a permanent replacement, after parliamentary chairman Yuli Edelstein quit the post.
Edelstein, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party, defied the court's call for a replacement vote this week after a majority of the Knesset asked for the election of a new speaker. He resigned Wednesday.
The Likud Party had previously threatened to end unity government talks if there was a vote for a new speaker. The two parties are also negotiating a temporary emergency government over the next six months to handle the coronavirus.