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 are running neck-and-neck to become the country’s largest party.
Without Lieberman’s endorsement, though, neither party appears able to secure a parliamentary majority with their prospective ideological allies.
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 rule.
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.
Near-final results released Wednesday by the Central Election Commission had Blue and White with 32 seats out of the 120 in parliament and edging past Likud, who had 31. The tally is based on a count of 63% of eligible voters. Overall turnout was 69.4%.
According to the partial results, Likud with its natural allies of religious and ultra-nationalist parties mustered just 55 seats — or six short of the needed majority.