Stalemate as result of Israeli election just too close to call

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Stalemate as result of Israeli election just too close to call


Happy: Benny Gantz kisses his wife Revital before a speech in Tel Aviv after the release of exit polls. Photo: Reuters
Happy: Benny Gantz kisses his wife Revital before a speech in Tel Aviv after the release of exit polls. Photo: Reuters

Israel’s elections were too close to call last night as both Benjamin Netanyahu and the former general trying to unseat him claimed victory.

Minutes after voting stopped, Mr Netanyahu, the incumbent prime minister, said “the right-wing bloc led by Likud won a clear victory”.

He added: “I thank the citizens of Israel for their trust. I will start assembling a right-wing government with our natural partners tonight.”

Former army chief Benny Gantz countered that he was the real winner and appealed to Israel’s president to give him the first chance to form a government.

“We won,” Mr Gantz said in a statement. “The president can see the picture and should call on the winner to form the next government. There is no other option.”

Even as the votes were being counted, both Mr Gantz and Mr Netanyahu were expected to begin contacting smaller party leaders and asking them to recommend that they lead the government.

As voting stations closed around the country, two early exit polls showed Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party tied with Blue and White, the centrist coalition led by Mr Gantz. Both parties had won around 36 seats.

The same polls showed that Likud and other right-wing parties held a slim majority in parliament, suggesting Mr Netanyahu may have a path to hold onto power by cobbling together a coalition.

A third exit poll showed Mr Gantz leading the prime minister by four seats and that the right wing had failed to win an overall majority.

Israeli pollsters warned there were likely to be many hours of vote-counting before the winner became clear.

After all the votes are counted, Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, will call all the party leaders for consultations before deciding which group to task with forming the government.

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Whoever is given the job will spend weeks haggling and negotiating with other parties to try to form a 61-seat majority in Israel’s parliament.

Mr Rivlin may urge the leaders of Likud and Blue and White to come together in a centre-right national unity government.

If Mr Netanyahu is able to cling to power he will be on course to overtake David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father, as the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli ­history.

But his hold on the prime minister’s post is still threatened by pending criminal corruption charges against him, which will be finalised after a hearing this summer.

Israeli prosecutors allege that Mr Netanyahu changed telecommunications regulations in return for more favourable media coverage and accepted bribes worth one million shekels (€230,000) in the form of lavish gifts from businessmen.

Mr Netanyahu denies all wrongdoing and claims the prosecutions are part of a politically motivated witch hunt against him and his family.

Mr Netanyahu’s main campaign message was that he was an indispensable prime minister, whose personal relationships with world leaders like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin had lifted Israel to a stature far beyond its small size.

He also tacked hard to the right, promising to annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and antagonising Arab voters by saying Israel was “not a state of all its citizens” but only a nation state of the Jewish people.

In the final days and hours of the election, Mr Netanyahu issued feverish warnings that he was in danger of losing and called on all right-wing voters to rally around his Likud party.

He posted a video of himself on Twitter at a popular beach at Poleg, north of Tel Aviv, appealing to swimmers to get out and make their voices heard.

“If you want to continue with the Likud and me, then you have to go vote,” he said. “Go to the beach later.”

His warnings appeared to have succeeded as Likud’s share of seats grew at the expense of smaller parties. However, Blue and White also appeared to have expanded by taking seats from the Labour party and others on the left.

Polls showed that turnout among Arab citizens, who make up 20pc of the Israeli population, had fallen since the 2015 election.

Two exit polls showed Arab parties winning six or seven seats, compared to 13 last time.

Telegraph.co.uk

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