Israeli PM Netanyahu looks set to lose power after election gamble backfires

Benjamin Netanyahu
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Israel’s two main political parties are deadlocked after an unprecedented repeat election, with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing an uphill battle to hold on to his job amid ongoing corruption allegations against him.

As Euronews reported, “Netanyahu had called elections to increase his majority, but the gamble spectacularly backfired”.

Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White parties, with over 97% of the results in, currently stand at 31 seats to 33 respectively. The parties both lie on the right wing of the political spectrum, though Netanyahu has increasingly courted hard-right support.

The results mean that neither Likud nor Blue and White, with its smaller respective allies, could control a majority in the 120-seat parliament. Likud and its natural allies of religious and ultra-nationalist parties have fallen several seats short of the needed majority. Both major parties would likely need the support of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party to move forwards.

That puts Lieberman, a former protege of Netanyahu who has become one of the PM’s fiercest rivals, in the position of kingmaker. He has said the “one and only option” on the table is a secular unity government between Likud and Blue and White. But that is one which could spell serious trouble for Netanyahu’s lengthy rule.

On 19 September, Netanyahu offered to form a unity government with Gantz’s coalition. But senior Blue and White figure Moshe Yaalon said: “We will not enter a coalition led by Netanyahu.” Former military chief Gantz, meanwhile, has also ruled out sitting with a Netanyahu-led Likud at a time when the PM is expected to be indicted on corruption charges in the coming weeks.

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Netanyahu 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 hearing scheduled next month. A formal indictment would increase the pressure on Netanyahu to step aside if he does not have immunity.

Without the immunity of high office, Euronews said Netanyahu “could face even more scrutiny over his financial affairs and his actions while in office”.

The election is the second this year after a deadlocked result in April.

Addressing his supporters early on Wednesday, Netanyahu refused to concede defeat and vowed to work to form a new government that excludes Arab parties. His campaign focused heavily on attacking and questioning the loyalty of the country’s Arab minority – a strategy that drew accusations of racism and incitement.

The Joint List – which seeks to represent the Palestinian fifth of Israel’s population – appears to have won around 12 seats after a large turnout.

Politicians will have 28 days to try and form a government.

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