Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to concede knife-edge election: Israeli PM looks to have lost seats as rival Benny Gantz calls for ‘broad unity government’
- Exit polls forecast that Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party had won 33 seats
- This was against 34 for the centrist Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz
- Avigdor Lieberman is the leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party who will likely decide the outcome of the repeat election
The future of Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in doubt last night after his party appeared to have lost seats in the country’s election.
In a speech soon after the exit polls, the prime minister said that Israel needs a ‘strong and stable and Zionist government’ going forward.
He also said that a Zionist government would be needed to work with his ‘close friend,’ US President Donald Trump.
His competitor, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party, said that he ‘will fight to create a national unity government.’
Israeli Prime Minister and Chairman of the Likud Party, greets supporters after early exit polls in the general election. Polls show the PM’s Likud party trailing by one seat in the Israeli Knesset
Netanyahu also promised: ‘A government that is committed to Israel as a national state for the Jewish people. There can’t be a government that is being supported by anti-Zionist, Arabic parties that doesn’t believe in Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Parties who are supporting terrorists who are killing our families and our children. It is unthinkable,’ he added.
Exit polls forecast that his Right-wing Likud party were one seat behind the centrist Blue and White party’s 34 at the closing of the ballots.
Mr Netanyahu called yesterday’s snap election after failing to form a governing coalition following an election in April, which had left both parties with 35 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
If the challenger Blue and White, led by former military chief Benny Gantz, is now the biggest party it may hold the winning card in attempts to form a coalition government with Israel’s myriad smaller parties.
Gantz said after the results: ‘According to the results, it looks like for the second time, the citizens of Israel gave their trust to us, the citizens gave their trust to unity and to respect democracy in Israel as a country that is a Jewish state and a democratic state.’
‘We proved and I promise that starting tonight, regardless of the results, the beginning of the campaign to heal Israel society has started.’
Benny Gantz, Blue and White Party leader, can be seen here at the party headquarters. If Gantz manages to form a coalition party, he will be able to go forward and form a government
Negotiations on both sides will start as soon as the preliminary results come this morning.
Though it will be a toss up of who can negotiate hardest as soon as these results are in, Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beitenu, is likely to be the primary target for both men in hopes of forming a coalition.
Lieberman had turned down Netanyahu’s offer of defense minister in his government, forcing the need for an unprecedented repeat election in April.
Lieberman refused to join the new coalition in April because of what he said was the excessive influence it granted to ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.
Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, gives an address at the party’s electoral headquarters in Jerusalem late on September 17, 2019. Lieberman is likely to now be the kingmaker in forming a coalition government
But if the exit polls are correct it could spell the end of office for the country’s longest-serving prime minister.
Mr Netanyahu, 69, has been in power since 2009, having also previously served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999.
He had declared victory after the April poll and appeared on course to secure a governing majority with the backing of Right-wing and religious parties but talks collapsed after several chaotic weeks of recriminations.
In this month’s election campaign he made even more strident appeals to the Right, vowing to apply ‘Israeli sovereignty’ in the Jordan Valley.
This effectively amounts to a promise to annex 30 per cent of the occupied West Bank, which Palestinians claim as their territory.