Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who decided to call a second general election within in a year, is facing oblivion after a decade of ruling the Western Asian country.
With 90% of the vote counted the party of Benny Gantz, the former Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defence Forces, captured 33 seats in the 120-seat parliament, to 32 seats for Netanyahu’s conservative Likud.
Netanyahu cannot win enough seats (61) to form a coalition government with his “natural partners” on the right in Israel. He can muster only 55 seats.
Gantz’s centre-left bloc can only manage 56 seats.
Israel President Reuven Rivlin has to decide who gets the first opportunity to form government. Haaretz reported that Rivlin may offer Gantz the nomination. If he accepts he has 28 days (with a possible short extension) to form government.
“Judging by the present situation assessment, Netanyahu is no longer capable of winning an election in Israel. This story is over,” said Yossi Verter, political commentator for Haaretz.
Netanyahu’s legal problems plagued his campaign. Israel’s attorney general has recommended indicting the Prime Minister on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in a series of corruption scandals, pending a hearing scheduled in early October.
Netanyahu sought to capture a narrow coalition of hard-line parties that would grant him immunity from prosecution.
He embarked on a campaign of stunts and promises aimed at shoring up his base, AP News reported. Borrowing tactics from the political playbook of his friend, President Donald Trump, he lashed out at the media, police, judiciary and election commission, alleging a vast conspiracy against him. He vowed to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank and threatened to unleash a war on Gaza militants.
The 69-year-old saved special vitriol for Israel’s Arab minority, implying that they were a hostile fifth column out to destroy the nation. He tried, and failed, to pass legislation that would install monitoring cameras in voting booths as he made unfounded claims of fraud in Arab districts. An automated post on his Facebook page claimed Arabs “want to annihilate us all.”
Netanyahu was accused of racism and his bid to intimidate voters to stay home on election day back-fired as Arabs locked to the polls, turning the Arab Joint List, an alliance of four smaller parties, into the third largest bloc. According to the electoral commission, 69.4 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote on Tuesday, an increase of 1.5 percent compared with April’s election.
“What we see of the results so far show that Netanyahu has received a slap to the face,” Majdi Halabi, an expert on Israeli affairs, told Al Jazeera.
The most obvious course of action would be for Netanyahu and Gantz to unite and form government but Gantz pledged he would never work with Netanyahu. Gantz and Netanyahu’s parties can block each other’s plans to form a coalition government, thus seeing the country go to a third election.
Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, which is expected to win nine seats, could well be Netanyahu’s regicide. Lieberman said after the poll result that he would form a unity government with Gantz’s party and the Prime Minister’s Likud party.
“There is no way that Netanyahu will be the prime minister now. Even if a unity government is formed, Netanyahu is out of the game,” added Halabi.