Israel govt swearing-in delayed a day by Pompeo visit: officials

Jerusalem (AFP) –


The swearing-in of Israel's new unity government has been postponed by one day to Thursday due to the upcoming visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, officials said.

A parliament spokesman said the joint administration of incumbent premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his former rival Benny Gantz would be inaugurated on Thursday instead of Wednesday.

A spokesman for Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party told AFP the delay was "because of the visit" of the US top diplomat on Wednesday.

Pompeo's trip comes as US President Donald Trump's administration gives its blessing to Netanyahu's plans to annex much of the occupied West Bank, despite warnings from the Palestinians that the move will kill the prospects of a long-term peace agreement.

Israel's new government is the result of a deal allowing Netanyahu to continue on as prime minister for another 18 months, before the former military chief Gantz takes over the post for the same period.

The proposed government had been challenged in the high court, with opponents arguing Netanyahu is ineligible due to corruption indictments he faces. But the judges ruled there was no legal reason to prevent him from serving as prime minister.

Pompeo will meet both Netanyahu and Gantz for talks on "regional security issues related to Iran's malign influence," according to the State Department.

Trump in January unveiled a long-awaited Middle East plan in which he endorsed Israel's annexation of areas around Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, which are considered illegal by the rest of the world.

In turn, the Palestinians would have the right to an independent but demilitarised state and would be promised major investment.

According to the agreement between Gantz and Netanyahu, the new government can decide to go ahead with annexation starting in July but must consult with the United States.

Netanyahu, Israel's veteran leader, has secured the participation of Gantz and his centre-left allies in his coalition along with the ultra-Orthodox parties.

But the six-member right-wing Yemina has so far refused to join over what it criticises as the emerging "left-wing" nature of the incoming government.

Yemina leader and outgoing defence minister Naftali Bennett on Monday reiterated his desire to be appointed health minister in the next government.

Bennett could still join his party to the coalition by Thursday if he reaches a satisfactory deal, but he warned that, otherwise, "we'll be a vigorous opposition".

Pompeo's visit will give Netanyahu another day to attempt to bring Yemina into the coalition.