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Israel election: Gantz’s centrist alliance concedes defeat, paving way for Netanyahu record fifth term in office

‘We will turn the Knesset into a battlefield,’ warns the opposition

Bel Trew
Wednesday 10 April 2019 19:38 BST
The result was close but the incumbent will form the next government
The result was close but the incumbent will form the next government (AFP)

Israel’s ex-army chief Benny Gantz and his centrist alliance have conceded a defeat in the country’s elections, paving the way for incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu to secure a record fifth term in office.

Speaking from his Blue and White party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Lt Gen Gantz and his coalition partner Yair Lapid admitted they had not won “in this round”, but said they were preparing for elections next year – a likely reference to Mr Netanyahu’s possible indictment.

The statements came as votes were still being counted on Wednesday evening in a fraught election that bitterly divided the nation and left Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and the Blue and White party deadlocked with 35 seats each.

But the tally clearly showed that a right-wing block led by the prime minister and his religious-ultranationalist allies would be set to secure a 65-55-seat majority in parliament, meaning Mr Netanyahu would be tasked by Israel’s president with forming the next government.

“We didn’t win in this round, I respect the voters,” Mr Lapid said, taking to the podium first.

“I inform the Likud, Netanyahu and the coalition in advance: we are going to make your life miserable ... We will not let go of Netanyahu’s indictment. We will turn the Knesset into a battlefield.”

Mr Gantz spoke second and defended his party’s performance, calling the results for the new and unknown alliance “unprecedented”.

“Netanyahu collected all the extremists, he consumed his [political] partners and this is the result that we got,” he told supporters.

Both sides had claimed victory late on Tuesday, as contradictory exit polls pointed initially to a significant Blue and White edge over the Likud.

But as the results trickled in, it showed the Blue and White alliance would not be able to secure enough of a margin to build a majority, and their frantic attempts on Wednesday to rally enough support for a coalition failed.

World leaders had already taken to social media to congratulate Mr Netanyahu on his win, despite final results yet to be announced.

US president Donald Trump, a staunch ally of the premier, said a Likud win meant a “better chance” for peace.

“I’d like to congratulate Bibi Netanyahu. It looks like that race has been won by him. It may be a little early but I’m hearing he’s won it and won it in good fashion,” he said earlier from the White House.

He added: “I think we now have a better chance [for peace] with Bibi having won.”

It followed congratulations from right-wing European leaders including Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Czech president Milos Zeman and Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, who all said they looked forward to working with a Netanyahu-led government.

Mr Zeman said he was happy the Israeli people had agreed to the premier’s “political agenda” and once again vowed to move the Czech embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising the contested city as Israel’s capital.

Mr Netanyahu’s re-election has been met with dismay by Palestinians, who fear that Israel’s next government will be the most right-wing yet.

Firstly, Likud is bigger and stronger ... the second victory is that the right-wing bloc again recorded a big victory and an increase on the last time

Ofer Kenig, Israel Democracy Institute

In the stormy lead-up to the elections, Mr Netanyahu vowed to annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a move that would destroy remaining hopes for Palestinian statehood and is deemed illegal under international law. He had also promised to demolish Bedouin villages.

A senior leader in Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, dismissed the win, saying: “All parties are faces of one coin, the coin of occupation.”

Ahmed Majdalani, the aide to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, said the outcome of the election meant a boost for what he called the “extreme right-wing camp” in Israeli politics and vowed to seek the help of the international community to try to block any annexation plans.

Hanan Ashrawi, a leading official in the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, said the elections results showed Israel choosing to entrench “the status quo of oppression, occupation, annexation and dispossession”.

Israeli analysts said the elections results gave Mr Netanyahu the mandate to push forward with an even more right-wing government, despite the neck-to-neck seat numbers showing how divided the country was.

Dr Ofer Kenig, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, said the results marked a “triple win” for Mr Netanyahu and one of the greatest victories for the Likud party in a decade, giving him greater bargaining power in the next government.

“Firstly, Likud is bigger and stronger, it secured the highest number of seats it ever has under Netanyahu’s rule. The second victory is that the right-wing bloc again recorded a big victory and an increase on the last time,” he told The Independent.

He said a third “personal win” for Mr Netanyahu was the “humiliating defeat” of the New Right, the party of his boisterous education minister Naftali Bennett, who had repeatedly demanded to be made defence minister.

The New Right so far has failed to reach the 3.25 per cent threshold to secure a seat in the Knesset.

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