Israel election: Netanyahu urges rival Gantz to join unity government

Clay Curtis
September 19, 2019

Israelis were contending with the prospect of a third election on Thursday, two days after an unprecedented repeat election left the country's two main political parties deadlocked, with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his rivals holding a clear path to a coalition government.

Its rejection could spell weeks of wrangling after Tuesday's election, which followed an inconclusive national ballot in April.

Netanyahu, prime minister for a total of more than 13 years, suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career following an election in April.

The PM's chief challenger is his former military chief Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White Party, which, as of Friday, was polling neck-and-neck with Netanyahu's Likud. The prime minister denies any wrongdoing.

Gantz, addressing supporters in Tel Aviv, called for a "broad unity government" but cautioned that he was waiting for final results.

The latest vote tally shows Netanyahu's Likud party has 31 seats to Gantz's 32, with 90 per cent of results counted.

In a sign of the demanding negotiations to come, sources in Netanyahu's office told AFP he was cancelling a planned trip next week to the UN General Assembly in NY due to the "political context" in Israel. Gantz and his allies have hit the prime minister hard on graft, dubbing one campaign "Make Israel Normal Again".

Throughout his campaign, Netanyahu warned, as he has in previous elections, that left-wing and Arab voters were showing up in large numbers to try to oust him.

Against the prospect of a likely indictment on corruption charges, Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term in office.

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"The only thing that Netanyahu cares about in this election is him surviving as a prime minister", she told AFP.

Mr Rivlin will hold consultations with party representatives before nominating a candidate whom he believes has the best chance of forming a government.

Netanyahu, 69, appeared tired and hoarse in a 3am election night speech to party faithful earlier today in which he said he meant to form a "Zionist government", without Arab parties that could lend support to Gantz.

After exit polls were released on Tuesday night, Lieberman called for a unity government formed of his party, Likud and Blue and White, saying the country was facing an "emergency".

Mr. Netanyahu's campaign swung between images of him jetting off to world capitals and having warm relations with powerful leaders, most notably President Donald Trump.

On Wednesday, Gantz said he hoped for a "good, desirable unity government".

Netanyahu has traditionally fought and won his campaigns on security, whether that is concerns over a nuclear Iran or open hostility to Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Lieberman does not accept Orthodox (ultra-religious) parties to be a part of any coalition he may join, thus putting Netanyahu in a corner.

Mr Trump added that he looks forward to continuing the discussions after the election when the two men meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly later this month.

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