/Israel election results: Netanyahu ahead by 1 point in coalition talks

Israel election results: Netanyahu ahead by 1 point in coalition talks

  • Israel voted on September 17, in an election that put at stake the future of its longtime prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Netanyahu, of the right-wing Likud party, was facing off (again) against Benny Gantz, the Blue and White party leader who was previously the Israel Defense Forces military chief.
  • Though results are still being finalized, exit polls indicate that Gantz’s centrist Blue and White Party has won 33 seats in the Knesset, overtaking Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party which won 31 seats. 
  • Though Gantz has won slightly more seats in Israel’s parliament than Netanyahu, he may not have the support of smaller parties needed to secure a win.
  • It is unlikely that either party will win an outright majority — which means President Reuven Rivlin will be left to choose a winner based on discussions with other parties on who they endorse to form a coalition government. 
  • As of Monday evening local time, Netanyahu’s endorsements put him at 55 seats. He has called for a unity government and power-sharing agreement.
  • Gantz’s endorsements put him at 54 seats, and he has previously refused to join a government with Netanyahu, who is embroiled in several corruption scandals and may face criminal charges in the near future.
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Israel went to the polls on September 17 in elections meant to decide the future of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pitting a major ally of US President Donald Trump against a former top Israeli military chief.

If this feels familiar, it is.

Israel most recently had an election just five months ago, after Netanyahu’s government dissolved over clashes with his coalition partners. Early elections were called for April 9.

Netanyahu was — and is again — facing Benny Gantz, a 60-year-old who served as the head of the Israel Defense Forces from 2011 to 2015, navigating the country through two incursions on the Gaza Strip.

Gantz leads the centrist Blue and White party, which was formed only this year.

Many voters have voiced support for Gantz, who would undeniably bring change after Netanyahu’s four terms and 13 years as prime minister. Netanyahu heads the right-wing Likud party.

He is the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history.

Back in April, both Netanyahu and Gantz won 35 seats in Israel’s parliament, far short of the 61 needed for an outright majority. (Israel’s parliament, called the Knesset, has 120 seats.)

If a party has no majority, the Israeli president — currently Reuven Rivlin — picks a prime minister based on who is considered most able to form a coalition. In April, Rivlin chose Netanyahu, who then failed to form a coalition government. The consequence was the September election.

rivlin israeli elections

Memebers of the Joint List party sits next to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin as he began talks with political parties over who should form a new government, at his residence in Jerusalem September 22, 2019.
Menachen Kahana/Pool via REUTERS

Election results put Gantz ahead of Netanyahu — but it doesn’t mean he will win 

Though Israelis are reliving an experience they went through just months ago, voter turnout this election was higher than April’s, up to 69.4% from 67.9%.

As of 3 a.m. local time Tuesday in Israel, Gantz’s Blue and White party was slightly ahead with 25.93% of the vote. 

Netanyahu’s Likud party trailed with 25.09% of the vote, with 69% of the votes tallied.

Though results are still being finalized, exit polls indicate that the Blue and White party has won 33 seats in the Knesset, overtaking the Likud party which won 31 seats. 

Third parties, soon to become strategic allies to the as-of-yet undetermined winner, held smaller yet significant portions of the vote.

Most notably, the Arab Palestinian Joint List came in as the third-largest party, winning 10.62% of the vote, equal to 13 seats.

Because no party has secured an outright majority, Rivlin will select his choice based on discussions with smaller parties. After the president decides, the chosen candidate has 42 days to form a coalition government.

If the selected leader can’t form a coalition, another candidate will be given a chance.

As of Monday evening local time, Netanyahu’s endorsements put him at 55 seats, narrowly inching ahead of Gantz, whose recommendations place him at 54 seats.

Gantz was recommended Arab party lawmakers on Sunday, a shock move given that Arab-led parties have not put forward a recommendation for who should lead the government since 1992.

ayman odeh israel elections

Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, gestures as he hands out pamphlets during an an election campaign event in Tira, northern Israel September 5, 2019.
REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Read more: Israel has been plunged into political chaos after Netanyahu failed to form a government — and experts say this could be the end of the line for him

On Monday, Netanyahu and Gantz met with Rivlin to discuss prospects of a unity government, a reference to a possible joint rule between his party and Netanyahu’s Likud.

Netanyahu has called for a power-sharing agreement between the two largest parties, but Gantz has previously refused to join a government with Netanyahu, who is embroiled in several corruption scandals and may face criminal charges in the near future.

During their meeting, Rivlin said the two party leaders made “significant steps” in negotiations, though the future is still uncertain as both could not agree on who would serve first in a rotating leadership. 

Gantz last week initially called for a “good and desirable unity government,” but swiftly rejected Netanyahu’s concessions and instead called on Netanyahu’s religious allies to dump their coalition agreements with Likud. 

“I intend to form a broad and liberal unity government under my leadership,” Gantz said at a news conference Thursday, urging Likud to replace Netanyahu as it’s head. 

“If Netanyahu moves aside, we’ll have a unity government.”

Avigdor Liberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party ⁠— a kingmaker in the previous election ⁠— also called on both parties to join together in a “broad liberal unity government.” He has so far refused to endorse either party. 

Experts say it’s likely Netanyahu will be unseated — and Trump will lose a strategic Middle East ally

Exit polls suggest that Netanyahu’s role as Israel’s strongman may soon be coming to an end.

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a state memorial ceremony at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a shrine holy to Jews and Muslims, in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a state memorial ceremony at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a shrine holy to Jews and Muslims, in Hebron
Reuters

Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said in a press call on Tuesday that exit polls indicated a “quite dramatic outcome.”

“For the first time after a decade, there is a very high likelihood that Netanyahu is no longer going to be the prime minister of the State of Israel,” he said.

While it may be up to Rivlin to say which candidate will be tasked with forming a coalition, Plesner said Netanyahu’s chances appeared to be “blocked, because Gantz has more potential coalition partners.”

Plesner added that Likud might decide to unseat Netanyahu as party leader, which could help its chances of forming a unity government.

“We might enter a period of days and perhaps weeks when it is unclear who is going to be the prime minister,” he said.

Netanyahu is a strategic ally to US President Donald Trump and has grown closer to him since his election in 2016.

Under the Trump administration, the US has made several policy decisions favorable to Israel, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy there, withdrawing from the nuclear deal it signed with Israel’s nemesis Iran, and calling for the recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights.

But Plesner said Trump’s friendliness did less to boost Netanyahu in this election, because voters were used to it and any boost “was already factored in.”

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