Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger, Benny Gantz, yesterday were deadlocked after a general election, reports said, raising the possibility of a unity government or even the end of the prime minister’s long rule.
Various Israeli media reported that Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White had 32 seats each of parliament’s 120, with more than 90 percent of the vote counted.
The reports were citing sources within the elections committee, as that level of results had not been officially posted and were not expected before yesterday afternoon.
The results gave no obvious path for either to form a majority coalition, raising the possibility of negotiations toward a unity government.
If the results held, it would be a major setback for Netanyahu, who hoped to form a right-wing coalition similar to his current one as he faces the possibility of corruption charges in the weeks ahead.
With a hoarse voice and appearing haggard after days of intense campaigning, Netanyahu spoke before supporters in the early hours of yesterday and said he was prepared for negotiations to form a “strong Zionist government.”
He seemed to hint at openness to forming a national unity government, but did not specifically say so.
In his speech to supporters in Tel Aviv, Gantz called for a “broad unity government,” but cautioned that he was waiting for the final results.
“We will act to form a broad unity government that will express the will of the people,” the former armed forces chief said. “We will begin negotiations and I will speak with everyone.”
When journalists approached him as he was on his way for a run yesterday morning, Gantz said: “We’ll wait for the final results ... and wish Israel a good unity government.”
Netanyahu had not spoken in public since his early morning speech.
Former Israeli minister of defense Avigdor Lieberman could be kingmaker, with the reported results showing his nationalist Yisrael Beitenu with nine seats.
The Arab Joint List alliance was set to become the third-largest bloc in parliament with 12 seats, the reports said.
That could put the Arab parties in a position to block Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister if they decide to break with precedent and endorse Gantz for the job.
Israel’s Arab parties have traditionally not endorsed anyone for prime minister.
“The main difference in this vote is the turnout among Arab citizens,” Arab Joint List leader Ayman Odeh told journalists outside his home in the northern city of Haifa. “There’s no doubt that this is what made the difference. Without that, Netanyahu would already be prime minister.”
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