Unless he convinces Israeli lawmakers from outside his party to join him in a national unity government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 10-and-a-half-year run in office may soon end following inconclusive results inhis country’s parliamentary elections this week that appeared to deprive him of a governing majority in the Knesset.
President Donald Trump took a hands-off approach when asked about the elections in America’s foremost ally in the Middle East.
“Our relations are with Israel, so we’ll see what happens,” he told reporters while touring California.
In Israel, Netanyahu has leveraged his ideological affinity with Trump as a selling point in his reelection bid. Trump has described Netanyahu as a close friend. Trump won praise from Netanyahu and others for his bold decision to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and his statement recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Netanyahu encountered various political headwinds as he campaigned to stay in office.
Israel’s attorney general wants to indict him on corruption charges. Critics say he claimed the media and government officials were out to get him. He apparently turned off some segments of the voting public by promising to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank and vowing to go after militants in Gaza.
At 69, “Bibi” Netanyahu is the longest-serving head of government in the Jewish state’s history and the first to be born in Israel after it was created in 1948.
In Israel’s fragmented national legislature that contains120 seats, 61 seats are required to form a government.The vote was Tuesday, Sept. 17. Another election was held earlier in the year, but Netanyahu was unable to cobble together a ruling coalition and a new election was called.
With 95 percent of the vote counted at press time, the Jerusalem Post reports that Netanyahu’s Likud was on-track to win 32 seats in the Knesset, falling one seat short of the 33 seats won by Kahol Lavan, the centrist so-called Blue and White alliance.
The Joint List, an alliance of Arab-dominated parties, won 12 seats. Yisrael Beitenu, a secular nationalist party that broke away from Likud, won 8 seats. Shas, an ultra-Orthodox religious party, won 9 seats. United Torah Judaism (UTJ), an alliance of ultra-Orthodox religious parties, won 8 seats. Yamina, which means “right” or “rightward,” is an alliance of right-wing parties that won 7seats. The Israeli Labor Party, also called HaAvoda, won 6 seats. The Democratic Union won 5 seats.
But it’s too early to write off Netanyahu’s chances of clinging to power.
Right now neither of the two largest political groupings, Likud and Blue and White, appears to control a majority of Knesset seats with help from the smaller parties.
Netanyahu and the leaders of Shas, UTJ, and Yamina have reportedly agreed to work together as a right-wing bloc, giving Bibi control of a total of 56 seats, still 5 short of the majority needed. The center-left bloc also controls 56 seats.
The conventional wisdom is that this situation makesAvigdor Lieberman, a former Netanyahu ally turned rivalwho leads Yisrael Beitenu, a potential kingmaker in negotiations over who will form the next government.Lieberman has said he favors a broad-based unity government.
Netanyahu is planning to ask Blue and White to join a national-unity government with him as prime minister, the Jerusalem Post reports.
Likud Members of the Knesset reportedly said Netanyahu may agree to rotate the office of prime minister with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. Their understanding is that Netanyahu would insist on serving in the post first and then yielding it to Gantz.
Gantz, on the other hand, is reportedly agreeable to a unity government with Likud but only if Netanyahu is not prime minister.
Netanyahu reportedly told his fellow Likud MKs that if he does not remain prime minister, Israel would be governed by a coalition dependent on the now-ascendant Arab-dominated Joint List.
“There are only two options: a government headed by me or a dangerous government together with anti-Zionist Arab parties,” he was quoted saying. “We will do everything possible to bring about a government headed by me.”
Netanyahu’s enemies are determined to remove him as prime minister.
Blue and White named former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s chief of staff Yoram Turbowicz as chief negotiator in the ongoing talks about forming a government.
Olmert himself predicted on TV that another round of elections is coming soon.
“Netanyahu will no longer serve as prime minister,” he said, “Not in a rotation pact [with another party], not in any other way. The people of Israel told him, ‘No more.’ The State of Israel is beginning to march in a new direction.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is expected to begin consultations with political leaders about forming the next government on Sept. 22.