JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday called for the formation of an emergency government to confront a growing crisis over the coronavirus, offering a potential way out of the deadlock that has paralyzed the political system for the past year.
Netanyahu made the offer in a nationally televised address, telling the nation that the virus does “not differentiate” between Jews and non-Jews or between the political left and right.
“I call for the formation now, even this evening, of a national emergency government,” he said.
“It will be an emergency government for a limited period. Together we will fight to save the lives of citizens,” he added, saying that politics should be put aside.
The conciliatory language marked a sharp change after months of acrimonious campaigning and heightened rhetoric in the wake of another inconclusive election earlier this month.
Israel has been relatively insulated from the coronavirus scare, with just over 100 cases diagnosed so far. But the numbers have begun to creep upward in recent days.
Israel has imposed a number of tough restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, placing tens of thousands of people into protective home quarantine, ordering all Israelis who return from overseas into quarantine and barring almost all tourists from entering the country.
This month’s election was Israel’s third to end in deadlock in the past year.
Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the single largest party but fell short of securing a majority of seats in parliament required to form a government.
Although a slight majority of lawmakers oppose Netanyahu, his rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, also does not appear to have sufficient support to form a government due to divisions within the opposition.
A unity government between the two large parties would be the most straightforward way out of the crisis.
But after three contentious campaigns, there is great animosity between the two leaders, and it remains unclear who would lead a unity government. Still, the growing coronavirus threat may be the spark that brings the sides together.
Gantz has previously ruled out a partnership with Netanyahu, citing the prime minister’s upcoming trial on corruption charges, which is set to begin next week.
Netanyahu has insisted that he lead any unity government.
Citing the urgent health crisis, Gantz appeared to be open to a compromise with Netanyahu earlier Thursday.
“Blue and White, under my leadership, will support every appropriate measure, putting aside political considerations entirely, at this complex and sensitive time,” he said.