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    Israel election: Netanyahu urges rival Gantz to join unity government

    September 19, 2019

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on his centrist rival Benny Gantz to form a unity government, after the country's second election in a year ended in deadlock.Local media say both men's parties failed to win enough votes on Tuesday to build a coalition with a majority.There was no immediate response to the prime minister's offer from Mr Gantz.But he has previously ruled out joining a coalition led by Mr Netanyahu, who faces possible corruption charges.At a ceremony in Jerusalem on Thursday, President Reuven Rivlin welcomed the prime minister's "important call".
    Mr Rivlin will hold consultations with party representatives before nominating a candidate whom he believes has the best chance of forming a government.What was the outcome of the election? Official results have been slow to be released by the Central Election Committee, with only 68.1% of votes counted by 10:40 (07:40 GMT) on Thursday.Mr Gantz's Blue and White alliance was 0.78% ahead of Mr Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party. The Joint List, an alliance of Arab parties, was in third place, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party in fourth, and the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party in fifth.The CEC tally does not say how this translates into seats in the 120-seat Knesset (parliament) but Israeli media reported that Blue and White was on track to win 33 seats, two more than Likud.A centre-left bloc led by Mr Gantz was projected to control 57 seats and a bloc of right-wing and religious parties allied to Mr Netanyahu looked set to have 55.
    Benny Gantz: The Israeli ex-military chief challenging NetanyahuWhat are the corruption allegations Netanyahu faces? Neither would therefore be able to form a majority coalition without support from Yisrael Beiteinu, whose leader Avigdor Lieberman has called for a "broad, liberal" unity government.Mr Lieberman prevented Mr Netanyahu from forming a majority coalition after the last election in April because he refused to back down in a longstanding dispute with religious parties over exempting ultra-Orthodox men from military service.How have the party leaders responded?On Wednesday night, officials said the prime minister had cancelled a planned trip to New York next week to address the United Nations General Assembly.In a video released on Thursday, Mr Netanyahu said that, "to his regret", the election results showed he would not be able to establish a right-wing government.
    Benny Gantz has said he wants to "start the journey of repairing Israeli society"
    "There is no choice but to establish a broad government, as broad as possible, composed of all those elements to whom the state of Israel is dear," he added."Benny, we must set up a unity government today. The people expect the two of us to show responsibility and work for co-operation. That is why I call on you, Benny. Let's meet today, at any hour, at any time, to put this in motion." "We must not, and we have no reason to get to third elections - I'm against it." Mr Gantz was expected to deliver a statement later on Thursday.In a speech to supporters at a post-election rally in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night, the former military chief said he wanted to form a "broad unity government that will express the will of the people" and "start the journey of repairing Israeli society".Mr Gantz has ruled out sitting with Likud if it is led by Mr Netanyahu because the prime minister is facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three corruption cases, pending a final hearing next month. Mr Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and says he is a victim of a political "witch hunt".
    Israel's election: The most important things to know
    Israelis are going to the polls on Tuesday for a second general election in just five months. What happens matters not only in Israel but also beyond.Here are five of the most important things to know.The winner will lead a regional superpower
    Israel has the strongest military in the Middle East (and is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal), and the prime minister decides when to send it into action.Although the country is not fighting any full-scale wars at the moment, there is the ever-present danger that fresh conflict will erupt with its regional foes.
    The two main contenders for the premiership have both positioned themselves as tough on security - the incumbent, Benjamin Netanyahu, has followed a strategy of air strikes and covert action against threats from neighbouring countries, while his most prominent challenger, Benny Gantz, is a former military chief on whose watch many such operations were carried out.Whoever wins will have to decide how to deal with the biggest dangers - the growing presence on Israel's borders of forces backed by Iran, Israel's arch-enemy, and a belief that Iran wants to develop a nuclear bomb - and whether to risk a war whose consequences, observers have warned, will be catastrophic.It will affect the future of the Palestinians The fate of the Palestinians depends on who is in power in Israel, since Israel occupies land which they seek for a state of their own.Mr Netanyahu says he will never agree to a sovereign Palestinian state with powers like any other country (something which he says will be a serious threat to Israel).He has also pledged to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and a swathe of land known as the Jordan Valley (which comprises about 30% of the West Bank). Because they are built on occupied territory, the settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
    The Palestinians, who want the settlements removed, say such a move would make a Palestinian state impossible and kill the peace process once and for all.Israel and the Palestinians: What are alternatives to a two-state solution?
    Who is Netanyahu's challenger? It is less clear where Benny Gantz stands on the issue. He has not said whether or not he accepts the idea of a Palestinian state, although, like Mr Netanyahu, he rejects withdrawing from all of the occupied West Bank and has also said he will not divide Jerusalem, whose eastern part Palestinians want to be the capital of a future state.While Mr Netanyahu is politically right wing and ideologically driven by Jewish claims to the land based on the Bible, Mr Gantz is considered more centrist and moderate.The outcome won't be decided on election nightThis may sound paradoxical but Israel's political system - a form of proportional representation - means it is as much about political bargaining after an election than it is to do with the poll itself.Israel has always been governed by coalitions of right-wing or left-wing blocs (or occasionally governments of national unity) - so the outcome of an election depends on what smaller parties demand from the winner (such as ministerial positions or budget pledges) in return for their support.Sometimes even a candidate whose party wins the most votes on the night does not become the prime minister if they cannot form a majority coalition comprising at least 61 seats in parliament.They have several weeks to try to do this after the election - and if they cannot manage it, the president can nominate another candidate for prime minister (in 2009, Mr Netanyahu's Likud party came second but he ended up re-appointed as PM). In April's election, Mr Netanyahu won the most votes but failed to form a coalition, which is he why he called a snap poll for 17 September.
    Voters don't care about what you might expect Polls show that the cost of living is more of a priority to Israelis than solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Security is also high on their agenda. Perhaps surprisingly to outsiders, corruption allegations against Prime Minister Netanyahu, who could be charged in the near future, are not particularly bothering voters, especially anyone right of centre.However, the fear (notably among left-wing voters) that Israeli democracy is under threat has grown amid concerns over expectations that Mr Netanyahu will seek coalition agreement about legislation providing immunity from prosecution while he is in office and planned reforms that would allow governments to overrule Supreme Court rulings (seen by critics as another way to keep Mr Netanyahu safe).One major issue which cuts across right-left political boundaries is that of conscripting more ultra-Orthodox Jews - who are currently exempted from the draft - into the military.Failure to agree on this was among factors that led to the collapse of Mr Netanyahu's coalition in December 2018, triggering April's election. The same issue also brought an end to the negotiations to form a new coalition, precipitating this poll.
    Aside from Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz, there are two other key figures who could make a big difference to what happens next.Avigdor Lieberman - An ally-turned-rival of the prime minister, Mr Lieberman leads the right-wing secular Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party.His withdrawal from Mr Netanyahu's coalition in November 2018 (he considered the PM too weak in dealing with militants in Gaza) left the prime minister with a majority of one. The following month, the coalition collapsed. If his party performs as well as polls predict, Mr Lieberman could hold the balance of power.However, he has said the only way he will help return Mr Netanyahu to office is if he agrees to a government of national unity and shares power with Benny Gantz's Blue and White party - something the prime minister has ruled out.Ayelet Shaked - Mr Netanyahu's former justice minister is the leader of the religious nationalist Yamina (Rightwards) alliance. The grouping's performance will be crucial to Mr Netanyahu's ability to put together a governing coalition.Although Ms Shaked is also a rival of Mr Netanyahu, she has said she will support him in forming a right-wing government. Whether this will be sufficient to remove Yisrael Beiteinu's ability to make or break a Netanyahu-led coalition remains to be seen.Politically hard-right, Ayelet Shaked advocates annexing those parts of the occupied West Bank placed under interim Israeli control in past peace deals with the Palestinians, and says that if Mr Netanyahu forms the next ruling coalition, she will make sure he follows through on his pledge to do it.
    Israel election a referendum on Netanyahu
    By Jeremy Bowen
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    Related TopicsIsrael elections 2019 Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel's longest-serving prime minister
    Everything is very close in this troubled land. It's small. Travelling around and across land that has been fought over doesn't take long. Enemies, resentment, hopes and disappointment are never far away. I took a drive down the Jordan Valley. It runs between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, mostly sandy and rocky desert. It is the deepest valley in the world, going down to 1,300 feet (400m) below sea level. The domes of the monastery of the Temptation, built into the cliffs stare down on Jericho, the Palestinian city that claims to be the oldest in the world. Christians believe Satan appeared somewhere near here to Jesus, tempting him during his 40 days and nights of fasting.The southern end of the valley, where I am, has been occupied by Israel since 1967, a big part of the land it captured in that year's Middle East War Usually the valley is a sleepy place. But Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed it into his country's general election, which is coming up this Tuesday. He declared that if he was returned as prime minister, he would annex the Jordan Valley, and Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The suggestion has been condemned by many of Israel's friends, including Britain, on the grounds that it would be yet another nail in the coffin containing hopes for peace. Israel would have absorbed land Palestinians want for a state.Mr Netanyahu has said similar things before. Perhaps he won't keep his promise if he wins. Perhaps he will.He's offering Israeli right-wingers a tasty electoral inducement to vote for him. He needs the votes. The election will be close.More than anything else, it is a referendum on Mr Netanyahu, who has overtaken Israel's founding father David Ben Gurion as its longest-serving prime minister.
    Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu: Commando turned PMIn Jerusalem, I went to an ultra-Orthodox rally. I headed for one of the religious neighbourhoods of the city. Thousands of men in black coats and hats, beards and skullcaps jammed into a closed-off major city highway. They were there to declare support for a coalition of religious parties, who are staunch supporters of Mr Netanyahu. He needs their support to form a new government.Israel's electoral system always produces coalitions. Would-be prime ministers need to add their own party's seats to those of smaller parties who exact a price for giving their support. The ultra-Orthodox have been staunch supporters of Mr Netanyahu. Without their seats, he would not be able to form a government.Israel is a strong country. Its achievements are remarkable. But it also has a streak of insecurity, understandable given the history of the Jews and of the Israeli state. Mr Netanyahu plays on those fears. His campaign has majored on Israel's enemies in Iran, Syria and Lebanon.His message, repeated time after time, is that the Middle East is a tough neighbourhood and he is the only politician who can keep Israelis safe. Election posters show him with US President Donald Trump, both men smiling, suggesting a unique partnership that only Mr Netanyahu can maintain.His main rival is a centre-left coalition, called Blue and White, led by a retired general, Benny Gantz, and Yair Lapid, a TV personality turned politician. General Gantz says he can restore honour to the premiership. Mr Netanyahu faces serious corruption charges, which he denies. His opponents say he has divided and cheapened Israel.On polling day, it might come down to turnout. Israelis get election days off - and it's perfect beach weather.

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