Early results in the Israeli polls conducted on 17 September show that two major competing parties are nearly tied, with neither one appearing to get a clear-cut majority, meaning Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz, the leader of the Israel Resilience Party, are locked in a tight race for leadership. Even if they team up with their respective coalition parties they're set for further negotiations.
'Strong Zionist' State With Trump's Blessing
Netanyahu addressed an audience while the parties were awaiting the results, reiterating his intention to establish a “strong Zionist government” while preventing an “anti-Zionist” one, clearly taking a dig at Israel’s Arab parties, with exit polls showing they could become the third-largest force in the new government. The sitting prime minister also praised President Trump at a rally, calling him “a close friend” and asserting “negotiations” with the American head of state will shape the future of Israel for decades to come. He also stressed the government and nation are at a historic junction, while picking the direction for them to go.
And the Next Prime Minister Is...
Benny Gantz, a 59-year-old retired general who from 2011 to 2015 served as the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) chief of staff, meanwhile, sounded more cautious when referring to the second time “the citizens of Israel gave their trust to us”, spawning chants from the crowd: “Who is this? The next prime minister!”
Per Israel’s Channel 12, it has been informed by sources in the Central Elections Committee, that at least 85% of the national vote has been counted. The station says that according to unofficial results, Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White are tied at 32 seats and that including minor parties, the right-wing bloc has a total of 56 seats, the centre-left boasts 55 and Lieberman has 9. According to the sources, a majority of votes have already been counted, but subjected to increased scrutiny as the CEC is doing recounts to ensure the output data is accurate.
West Bank Pledge at Heart of Benjamin Netanyahu's Campaign
Netanyahu pledged last week (as part of his campaign) to seize up to a third of the contested West Bank, declaring it would become a part of Israel if he was re-elected. The governmental sources cited by the media said that the only thing Netanyahu is waiting for is the American peace plan, reportedly due to be released soon.
This is the second time Israel has held a vote this year: in April, Netanyahu narrowly defeated Gantz but failed to form a government, setting up another vote to have a new try. Separately, the second poll came weeks after the prime minister was at the centre of a few corruption scandals and lawsuits, while retaining the top governmental position is expected to grant him immunity from prosecution. With a little reservation, however. The issue is that the polls show no clear dominance of any candidate, which made former MK Einat Wilf tweet in a most straight-forward manner:
“Today’s elections results are a resounding NO to an immunity government for PM Netanyahu. This is very good news for Israel’s democracy, as immunity for a sitting PM would have created a perverse incentive to stay in power forever to avoid jail. Beyond that, little else is known,” Wilf remarked.
Good-Bye Bibi, Hi the Government of Unity, or?
Israeli press, namely the Times of Israel, and a number of European mainstream outlets have eagerly engaged in speculation over the current leadership's future, noting Benjamin Netanyahu's long-standing political tenure is currently in limbo. However, the edition noted, there is hardly anything crystal clear in today's Israeli reality.
"After three months of campaigning, an election day, several weeks of failed coalition talks, three more months of campaigning and another election day, Israelis are no closer Wednesday morning to knowing who their leadership is or where they are taking the country, " Times of Israel's Joshua Davidovich put it.
- The top headline of mass media circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth reads along the same lines: "government morass," it says, with a smug-looking Avigdor Liberman placed in the middle of Benjamin Netanyahu and ex-military man Benny Gantz.
- Likud MK MIki Zohar told Army Radio that while a rotation is out of the question, it doesn’t discount unity, optimistically brought up by Gantz as he rallied his supporters on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, many editions put emphasis on Netanyahu, who is competing for his fifth consecutive term sounding exceptionally hoarse and looking sullen during his yesterday address. "Netanyahu, who is attempting to win a fifth term in office, looked sullen and sounded hoarse when he tried to rally his supporters in Tel Aviv last night. In contrast, Gantz beamed with confidence when he told activists that he hoped to form ‘a broad unity government',” the Guardian wrote.
- Others apparently focused on another persona in polls - former Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman:
- “The entire festival of Israel’s election brought us back to pretty much the same place. We already know that Avigdor Lieberman is the key figure in Israeli politics,” writes Haaretz’s Ravit Hecht, going on to ponder on the potential gamechanger as he is frequently referred to in media:“The only lingering question that will remain with us in the coming autumn is the same one that accompanied us during the last coalition negotiations: Will Lieberman follow through?”
- The stance is echoed by journalist Sima Kadmon: “Lieberman isn’t just the winner of the elections, he’s the one who will determine the makeup of the next government,” she wrote in Yedioth.