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Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Benny Gantz closer to unity deal

Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz (R) reaches out to shake hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a state memorial ceremony for Yitzhak and Leah Rabin, in Jerusalem, Israel, on November 10, 2019. File Photo by Heidi Levine/UPI
Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz (R) reaches out to shake hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a state memorial ceremony for Yitzhak and Leah Rabin, in Jerusalem, Israel, on November 10, 2019. File Photo by Heidi Levine/UPI | License Photo

April 14 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz reported "major progress" Tuesday in forming a unity government.

The leaders continued negotiations and seem to be closer than ever to a breakthrough in finally putting together a coalition government, something that has eluded them for nearly a year and led to two extra elections.

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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin extended a mandate for Gantz and his Blue and White Party until midnight Wednesday to complete the process. Gantz had requested two more weeks.

What appears to be a key sticking point is who will have the power to make judicial appointments.

Netanyahu's Likud Party has demanded a change in the way the appointments committee is formed, hoping to give more of its lawmakers a say in the process. The Blue and White Party has rejected changes to the existing process.

Another divisive issue is that Netanyahu faces a trial on corruption charges, something critics say should bar him from being a part of the coalition-building process. The trial has been delayed due to the coronavirus crisis.

Under the present unity government plan, Netanyahu, already Israel's longest-serving prime minister, will keep his post for 18 months and then be replaced by Gantz. Some Likud members fear Gantz could serve most or all of the term if Netanyahu is found guilty at trial.

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