Likud party leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu falls behind rival Benny Gantz from Blue and White party, which sees a surprising surge in votes

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures at the Likud party headquarters following the announcement of exit polls during Israel's parliamentary election in Tel Aviv, Israel September 18, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures at the Likud party headquarters following the announcement of exit polls during Israel's parliamentary election in Tel Aviv, Israel September 18, 2019. (Ammar Awad / Reuters)

Israeli voters went to the polls on Tuesday and have failed to deliver a majority for each of the major parties. According to revised surveys released by Israeli stations several hours after the polls closed, incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is slated to receive 30 to 33 seats in Israel’s Knesset, which has 120 seats in total. Netanyahu’s main rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party is slated to receive 32 to 34 seats.

A prominent Israeli news anchor, Udi Segal, commented that “Netanyahu has lost, but Gantz hasn’t won,” according to Reuters.

Gantz said on early Wednesday that Netanyahu “did not succeed in his mission” to win a fifth-term but that Blue and White would wait for the actual results.

Netanyahu, also on early Wednesday, said he would await actual results and would work towards setting up “a strong Zionist government” that would reflect the views of “many of the nation’s people,” Reuters reported.

The Zionist government would have included the main orthodox right wing parties as well as Lieberman’s secularist Yisrael Beiteinu, excluding Arab parties.

Neither Gantz nor Netanyahu seem to have enough support to form a governing coalition of 61 legislators. This setback brings into play former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party as a possible kingmaker.

Lieberman called for a national unity government after exit poll results were announced. “We have only one option – a national, liberal, broad government comprising Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud and Blue and White,” the politician told a campaign rally in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

Lieberman is key

The polls suggest that Netanyahu’s Likud party could have up to 57 parliamentary seats in a right-wing coalition, whereas Gantz’s Blue and White could have up to 58. Neither party could have the necessary 61 seats for a governing majority.

This is where Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu comes in with its 8 to 10 seats.

However, the road ahead is still unclear. Lieberman has announced that he is not interested in joining a coalition that includes ultra-Orthodox parties. Yet such parties are Netanyahu’s go-to allies.

On the other hand, Gantz has said his party would not join a government if Netanyahu is in it, because the prime minister is facing corruption charges and may be indicted.

The smaller parties

Israeli daily Haaretz reports that the third largest party after Blue and White and Likud is the Joint List, an alliance of four Arab parties that may have as many as 12 seats. Haaretz also allots nine seats to the ultra-Orthodox Shas, followed with eight seats for United Torah Judaism. Rounding up the partial results are Ayelet Shaked’s right wing alliance Yamina with seven seats, Labor-Gesher with six, and the Democratic Union with five.

Of these parties, Blue and White is interested in setting up a coalition with Labor-Gesher, along with the larger Yisrael Beytenu and Likud (without Netanyahu in the government), the Jerusalem Post reports.

While the Arab alliance Joint List is not likely to be a part of any coalition, its members are very pleased with the results. According to The Times of Israel, when members found out the Joint List could have as many as 13 seats, they were ecstatic, a feeling which was compounded when they heard that the far-right Otzma Yehudit party’s votes remained below the threshold to enter the Knesset.

Netanyahu was accused of running a racist campaign which focused on voter suppression of Israeli voters of Arab descent, bolstered by his warnings to his supporters whom he asked to come out in droves.

The Times of Israel also reports the prime minister has accused Arab parties of being terror supporters: “anti-Zionist Arab parties that oppose the very existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state –– parties that praise and glorify blood-thirsty terrorists who kill our soldiers, our citizens, our children.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies