Israel's Election Deadlocked 09/18 06:12
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's two main political parties were deadlocked
Wednesday after an unprecedented repeat election, with Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu facing an uphill battle to hold on to his job.
The election's seeming political kingmaker, Avigdor Lieberman, said he'll
insist upon a secular unity government between Netanyahu's Likud and Benny
Gantz's Blue and White parties, who based on partial results are currently tied
at 32 seats each out of the 120 in parliament.
Without Lieberman's endorsement, both parties appear to have fallen well
short of securing a parliamentary majority with their prospective ideological
With results still pouring in, Lieberman insisted the overall picture was
unlikely to change. He also demanded a secular "liberal" government shorn of
the religious and ultra-Orthodox allies the prime minister has long relied upon.
"The conclusion is clear, everything we said throughout the campaign is
coming true," he said outside his home in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim.
"There is one and only option: a national unity government that is broad and
liberal and we will not join any other option."
That could spell serious trouble for the continuation of Netanyahu's lengthy
Gantz, a former military chief, has ruled out sitting with a Netanyahu-led
Likud at a time when the prime minister is expected to be indicted on
corruption charges in the coming weeks. It raised the specter of an alternate
Likud candidate rising to challenge Netanyahu, though most of its senior
officials have thus far pledged to stand solidly behind their leader.
Netanyahu, the longest serving leader is Israeli history, had desperately
sought an outright majority with his hard-line and ultra-Orthodox allies in
hopes of passing legislation to give him immunity from his expected indictment.
Israel's attorney general has recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery,
fraud and breach of trust in three scandals, pending a long-awaited hearing
scheduled in the coming weeks. A formal indictment would increase the pressure
on Netanyahu to step aside if he does not have immunity.
The partial results released Wednesday by the Central Election Commission
were based on a tally of 56% of the potential electorate. Overall turnout was
According to the partial results, Likud with its natural allies of religious
and ultra-nationalist parties mustered just 56 seats --- or five short of the
Gantz's Blue and White and its center-left allies garnered 55 seats, placing
Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu and its nine seats in the middle as the deciding
The only precedent for a unity government in Israel came after the 1984
election and saw a rotating premiership between the heads of the two largest
The joint list of Arab parties, who have never sat in an Israeli government,
also finished strong, with results indicating they had earned 12 seats to
become the third-largest party in parliament. Should a unity government be
formed, its leader Ayman Odeh, would become the country's next opposition
leader, an official state position that would grant him an audience with
visiting dignitaries, a state-funded bodyguard, monthly consultations with the
prime minister and a platform to rebut his speeches in parliament.
Addressing his supporters early Wednesday, Netanyahu refused to concede
defeat and vowed to form a new government that excludes Arab parties,
continuing his campaign rhetoric of questioning the loyalty of the country's
Arab minority --- a strategy that drew accusations of racism and incitement.
"There neither will be nor can there be a government that relies on
anti-Zionist Arab parties. Parties that reject the very existence of Israel as
a Jewish and democratic state. Parties that vaunt and praise bloodthirsty
terrorists who murder our soldiers, citizens and children," he said.
In his first comments Wednesday morning outside his home, Gantz said he had
already begun working toward forming a "unity government" but urged patience
until the final results were announced, likely on Thursday.
Focus will then shift toward Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, who is
tasked with selecting the candidate he believes has the best chance of forming
a stable coalition. Rivlin is to consult with all parties in the coming days
before making his decision. Lieberman's recommendation will carry a lot of
weight regarding who will be tapped as the prime minister designate.
The candidate would then have up to six weeks to form a coalition. If that
fails, Rivlin could give another candidate for prime minister 28 days to form a
coalition. And if that doesn't work, new elections would be triggered yet
again. Rivlin has said he will do everything possible to avoid such a scenario
and Lieberman has ruled it out as well.
Lieberman's primary stated goal is to push out what he sees as the excessive
power of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and have wide a coalition that can
effectively tackle Israel's most pressing security and economic challenges. But
Netanyahu accused his former ally of plotting to oust him from office out of
Behind the two is decades of a roller-coaster relationship. Lieberman, once
Netanyahu's chief of staff, has held a series of senior Cabinet posts and was
often a staunch partner. But he's has also been a rival, critic and thorn in
The Moldovan-born Lieberman started as a top Netanyahu aide in the 1990s
before embarking on a political career of his own as a nationalist hard-liner
and champion of immigrants like the former Soviet Union like himself. But he
resigned last year as defense minister because Netanyahu kept blocking his
plans to strike hard against Gaza militants.
Lieberman passed up the chance to return to the post following April's
election, refused to join Netanyahu's emerging coalition and forcing the
do-over vote. Assuming he sticks to his guns this time as well, Netanyahu could
be done as Israel's prime minister.
Liberman is now "the linchpin," wrote Nahum Barnea, a prominent columnist in
the Yediot Ahronot daily.
"I don't think that anyone is prepared to risk a third election, not even
for Netanyahu," Barnea added. "Maybe the time has come to say goodbye."