Netanyahu seeks to stay in power despite Likud’s failure to win parliamentary election
LONDON - Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was seeking to stay in office despite his Likud party’s failure to finish first in Israeli elections September 17.
Netanyahu proposed leading “a broad unity government” that would include Likud in alliance with the Blue and White alliance, which won the most Knesset seats in the vote and is led by former army chief Benny Gantz.
Although open to entering an alliance with Likud, Gantz said that he, not Netanyahu, should lead the coalition and become prime minister. “Blue and White, headed by me, has won the election,” said Gantz. “Blue and White is the largest party.”
The Blue and White secured 33 out of the 120 seats while Likud won 31. A governing coalition needs at least 61 parliamentary seats and neither Likud nor the Blue and White has secured that number in alliances with smaller parties willing to join one or the other.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is to begin consultations with party leaders about their preference for prime minister before choosing the candidate he thinks has the best chance to form a coalition.
The consultation period normally lasts around two days, a statement from Rivlin’s office said. If the main rivals fail to form a government — whether a unity one or in alliance with smaller parties — then it is possible that another election could be called, which would be the third since April.
Former Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beiteinu party secured eight seats, is being touted as a potential kingmaker. He said he supports a “broad liberal unity government” that would include Yisrael Beiteinu, Blue and White and Likud.
Lieberman, however, announced that he would not work with Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties, which he accused of seeking to impose religious law on all Israelis.
Lieberman’s insistence on that issue led to the failure of coalition talks with Likud after the April election. He said he is sticking by his demands. “We will not accept any less than that even at the cost of sitting in the opposition,” said Lieberman.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute think-tank, told the Associated Press that Netanyahu’s iron-clad alliance with the ultra-Orthodox is costing him politically.
The election’s third-biggest winner was the Arab Joint List, comprised mainly of Palestinian citizens of Israel, which claimed 13 seats following strong turnout by its community members.
Joint List officials said they would not be part of a governing coalition but there is a possibility the alliance could become Israel’s official opposition, should Likud form an alliance with Blue and White.
The Joint List refused to be part of a government that occupies Palestinian territories but it wants to improve living conditions for its community members, who have long complained of systemic discrimination.
“The increase in Arab voter turnout… could be seen as a kind of revenge for the racist and exclusionary language of the Netanyahu-led right but it might also be reflecting a desire for a partnership with Israeli Jews based solely on merit and self-respect,” Ronit Marzan, a researcher in Palestinian politics and society in the University of Haifa, wrote in Haaretz.
The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority expressed its willingness to engage in dialogue with any future Israeli leader.
“Whoever will be able to form a government, we are ready to sit with him or her to restart the negotiations,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said on September 18 in Oslo. Maliki reiterated the Palestinian Authority’s insistence on a two-state solution for peace.