TEL AVIV, Israel — Centrist Blue and White alliance leader Benny Gantz was elected as speaker of the Israeli parliament Thursday, in a surprise move seen as opening the way toward a unity government.

In his first speech, Gantz called for national unity and said he would do his utmost to form a grand coalition.

“This is not the time for strife and division,” he said, referring to the coronavirus crisis.

According to media reports, Gantz’s alliance has broken apart in response to the development, with only some members expected to join Gantz in entering into government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing and religious bloc.

Gantz would reportedly serve as foreign minister in a grand coalition with Netanyahu. The two leaders would rotate as prime minister, with Netanyahu remaining prime minister for a year and a half before being replaced by Gantz in September 2021.

Israel is forming a new government after months of uncertainty and three inconclusive elections, the latest of which was March 2.

Gantz and Netanyahu spoke Wednesday evening — the first time since March 2 elections, according to media reports — after Yuli Edelstein had announced his surprise resignation as speaker of the parliament in response to a high court order to hold a vote for his successor.

The fight over who would hold the Knesset speaker position was part of a fierce power struggle between the right-wing and religious bloc surrounding Netanyahu, and the center-left camp around Gantz.

With Gantz as speaker, Blue and White has control of the parliamentary agenda, although according to media reports, he plans to hand the position to a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party after a government is formed.

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