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March 3, 2020 1:24 pm

With Netanyahu Victorious but Lacking Majority, Difficult Process of Forming a Government Begins

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

A combination picture shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz. Photos: Reuters / Nir Elias, Amir Cohen / File.

Following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in Monday’s Knesset elections, the difficult negotiations to form a governing coalition got underway on Tuesday.

Complicating the picture is that there is still no clear path to a government, as Netanyahu’s rightist-religious bloc of parties did not gain enough seats to form a workable coalition on its own. As a result, several possibilities have emerged, including a unity government with the centrist Blue and White party or convincing some of its MKs to defect to Netanyahu’s Likud.

Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reported that some in Blue and White were urging the party’s leaders to at least explore the possibility of a unity government.

An anonymous source within the party cited a proposed unity government deal from after the September elections, which Blue and White turned down, telling Yediot that if the party had taken the deal, “Benny Gantz would be taking office as prime minister in two weeks and replacing Netanyahu, instead of giving a concession speech.”

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Another anonymous source said, “We need to calculate a new trajectory.”

In addition, two Blue and White MKs, Orit Farkash-Hacohen and Asaf Zamir, admitted that the party was considering a unity government and refused to deny that the issue was off the table.

Israeli news site N12 reported that Blue and White’s number two Yair Lapid appeared to throw cold water on the idea on Tuesday evening, telling reporters as he went into a meeting of top party officials, “Neither I nor any of the people going through this door will sit with Netanyahu.”

“I’m telling you that I will not sit in a government under Netanyahu and none of these people who go through this door will either,” he reiterated.

It is clear, moreover, that Netanyahu is not interested in a unity government for the moment.

According to Israeli news site Walla, the prime minister met on Tuesday afternoon with the heads of the rightist-religious parties (Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism, in addition to Likud) in hopes of somehow forming the nationalist government Netanyahu pledged to establish in his victory speech.

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz — a veteran Likud member — said, “The mission right now is to form a government. Netanyahu has a lot of ways he can go about this. Whoever goes against it goes against the will of the public.”

The most likely scenario, it appears, is for Netanyahu to look for defectors in rival parties.

Likud MK Miki Zohar said, “Mandates from the left can come over to us. We’ve identified candidates for defection.”

Two of the likely candidates, however, both denied that they would defect. Israel’s Channel 13 reports that Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich said simply, “It’s all rumors. It won’t happen.

MK Yoaz Hendel, also of Blue and White, echoed this sentiment, saying, “They haven’t contacted us, they won’t contact us, they know why.”

In the meantime, Israeli news site N12 took to the streets of Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market to see what ordinary Israelis thought of the result.

Jerusalem is a generally right-wing city, and most of the reactions were highly positive.

Asi Tzarfati, who works at the market, said, “I’m happy with the election results. They must form a right-wing government because that’s what the people decided. … People come to the market from all over Israel and they all support Netanyahu.”

Moshe Padida also expressed satisfaction at the result, saying, “The election results are incredible. Against all the odds and a [Blue and White] list with three generals, against arrests and indictments, the people had their say.”

“The people said they love Netanyahu and believe in the direction” he is taking the country, Padida said. “I trust his ability to form a government.

Blue and White voter Galia Makrit Ono, however, said, “This is a sad day for me. I voted for Gantz and the election results surprised me a lot. I believed that there’d be a closer fight between Likud and Blue and White.”

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