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Israel's choice is too short after initial polls



TEL AVIV – No Prime Minister

Benjamin Netanyahu

Neither its main competitor had a majority after the Israelis voted on Tuesday. According to polls, this could lead to uncertainty over the next Israeli government as the conflict between Iran and its US allies flares up.

Mr. Netanyahu's Likud Party and the Blue-White Party of

Benny Gantz,

The country's former security chief had 32 seats, according to Israel's Channel 11, the public broadcaster. The poll showed that Mr. Netanyahu's right-wing bloc has 56 seats over 54 seats for an Arab leftist bloc led by Mr. Gantz. Israel's parliament, the Knesset, has 120 members, meaning that for a majority, 61 votes are required.

The results remained fluid. Israel's television projections have been wrong in the past, predicting for the first time in April that Mr. Gantz was ahead of the competition before the results were passed on to Mr. Netanyahu.

Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party, in Rosh Haayin, Israel, on Tuesday.


Photo:

Kobi Wolf / Bloomberg News

If the deadlock holds the final results, it could fall to the former Secretary of Defense

Avigdor Lieberman

to appoint the next prime minister. He resigned from the right-wing coalition of Mr. Netanyahu this year and called on Blue and White and Likud to form a unity government.

Mr. Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party was scheduled to receive 10 seats in Channel 11's exit vote, which may give him the opportunity to deny Mr. Netanyahu the opportunity to receive 61 votes.

"We have only one option, a broad, liberal government of national unity," Lieberman said in a speech after the elections were completed. He called on the Israeli president

Reuven Rivlin

Messrs. Gantz and Netanyahu for an informal conversation on Friday.

A clear picture of the outcome can not be made until early Wednesday, when the results show which of the smaller parties have reached the threshold of 3.25% of the votes for joining the Knesset. Even with the final results, it may take weeks for a winner to be determined.

The elections posed a major challenge to Mr. Netanyahu after more than a decade of power as he faced an ever-deeper gap between Israel's religious groups and his secular society overshadowing his efforts to emphasize his perceived advantage to put on safety.

Mr. Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving Prime Minister, was looking for right-wing extremist and religious parties for another term as prime minister. During the four-month campaign, he campaigned with his security certificate and praised his ability to protect Israel and the military operations carried out by his government in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.

In the meantime, Mr. Gantz, a centrist, was trying to assemble voters tired of the Prime Minister's long reign. Mr Gantz, a popular military chief under Netanyahu from 2011 to 2015, pledged a strict security policy and said he would prevent Hamas from rocket attacks in the Gaza Strip.

Elections take place in the Middle East at a particularly tight time. president

Trump card

counts on Mr. Netanyahu as a close ally in Washington's confrontational stance against Iran. Tensions over Iran have worsened since the weekend after an attack on the Saudi Arabian oil industry and a US attack on Iran.

Although Mr. Netanyahu and President Trump have been closely tied, the US Commander in Chief has made a close bond earlier this year, Mr. Gantz described as a good person. Asked about the election on Monday, Mr. Trump refused to support one of the candidates and said the race was tight.

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The result of the vote will almost certainly have an impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Netanyahu has pledged to annex West Bank swathes upon his re-election, and Mr. Trump plans to release a long-awaited peace proposal after the elections.

The election is the second this year. After a vote in April, Mr. Netanyahu and his allies were unable to form a majority government in the Knesset. The prime minister failed because he was unable to bring together the secular and religious parties he relied on to form a coalition, including the Lieberman party.

For many Israelis, re-election on Tuesday has become a referendum on what religion should have in their daily lives.

Lieberman and Gantz had promised to form a secular government, and wooed voters who reject the powerful role of Israel's religious parties in the present day. Mr. Netanyahu has in the past relied on smaller religious parties to form governments to maintain control over marriage, divorce and Shabbat loyalty by closing down businesses and using public transport on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Leadership Contest May End A decision by President Rivlin, the largely ceremonial head of state, whose main constitutional responsibility is to determine who has the strongest mandate to form a government.

The first bite is usually given to the leader who receives the most support from the various parties. According to surveys showing Mr. Lieberman with eight to ten seats, he was able to put either Mr. Netanyahu or Mr. Gantz across the threshold.

Rivlin's office announced on Tuesday that it would consult as soon as possible to form a new government and avoid a third election this year.

The exit polls triggered a storm of speculation about how Mr. Netanyahu would remain in power and whether Mr. Gantz could actually cobble together a majority to form a government. High-ranking Likud members said their party would not depose Mr. Netanyahu as a leader, but would be ready to form a unity government with the Blues and Whites party.

"There will be no deposition from Netanyahu. We're all behind him, "said Miri Regev, a high-ranking Likud minister, in an interview on Channel 12.

The hurdles to such an agreement remain high, and Blue and White legislators are keeping their promise not to let Mr. Netanyahu lead the government.

"We will not be sitting in a unity government where Netanyahu holds the leadership," avi Nissenkorn, the blue-and-white lawmaker, said on Israel's Channel 11. Arab citizens were well on their way to becoming the third largest party in the Knesset expand. An Arab party has never sat in the Israeli government to avoid being associated with Israeli military campaigns against the Palestinians.

If Likud and Blue and White form a government together, Ayman Odeh, the head of the Common List, would be the first Arab citizen of Israel to lead the opposition. This position traditionally involves regular meetings with the Prime Minister and secret security meetings.

"Perhaps for the first time we are leading the opposition, a prestigious position, I consider this an important opportunity," Odeh said.

"Netanyahu will cease to be Prime Minister, thanks to the people he incites against

Some voters said that replacement of Mr. Netanyahu was their main motivation for voting.

69-year-old David Cohen from the Israeli settlement of Ma'ala Adumim said he formerly head of the Likud party, has attacked Mr. Netanyahu in recent years, saying he voted for Mr. Lieberman.

"I'm afraid what the Haredi will do to this country and what Bibi has given them," said he, referring to the ultra-Orthodox population of Israel's Netanyahu. [19455924] Write to Felicia Schwartz at [email protected]

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