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Benjamin Netanyahu Is Out And Benny Gantz Is In. Now What? (#GotBitcoin?)

Gantz Declares Win, Rejects Netanyahu’s Call For Negotiations. Benjamin Netanyahu Is Out And Benny Gantz Is In. Now What? (#GotBitcoin?)

Benny Gantz vows to lead a broad coalition from across Israel’s political spectrum.

Israel’s former military chief Benny Gantz declared victory Thursday in Israel’s election and rebuffed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ’s calls for power sharing, as the country braced for weeks of political uncertainty at a time of rising geopolitical tensions in the Middle East.

Mr. Gantz vowed to lead a broad coalition from across Israel’s political spectrum, known as a unity government, ending several years of right-wing and religious majorities led by Mr. Netanyahu. The prime minister conceded Thursday that he would be unable to form the government he campaigned for, but insisted he would lead a unity government with Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White Party.

Mr. Gantz has yet to receive a mandate to form a government from Israel’s president, but he appeared to have a slight edge in unofficial results with 98% of the vote counted.

Mr. Netanyahu’s failure to gain a majority on his terms marks a humbling blow for a towering figure in Israeli politics who is now facing the possible end of his political career and fight to avoid going to prison. For the first time in a decade, he no longer appeared to be in control of the direction of Israeli politics, and even if he survives, he could emerge a much diminished figure.

He faces a pretrial hearing next month on corruption charges, which he denies, and could be forced to resign if indicted while not prime minister.

Mr. Netanyahu hinted Thursday that he would be willing to rotate as prime minister with Mr. Gantz, a situation that could allow him to retain the premiership and the potential protection it offers through any corruption hearings, if Mr. Gantz would agree to let him go first, which seems unlikely.

Mr. Gantz, who was the first to call for a unity government, rejected Mr. Netanyahu’s power-sharing agreement Thursday. His party called on Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party and the religious parties to ditch Mr. Netanyahu.

“I intend to form a broad and liberal unity government under my leadership,” Mr. Gantz said in a news conference, adding he had already begun trying to bring one together that represents “a real change in priorities.”

“We will not yield to any dictates,” Mr. Gantz said. Blue and White’s number two official, Yair Lapid, was blunter: “If Netanyahu moves aside, we’ll have a unity government.”

Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement that he was disappointed by Mr. Gantz’s remarks.

The coalescence around some form of unity government happened as the results of the election came into clearer focus Thursday.

Israel’s Channel 12 projected Blue and White leading Likud 33 to 31 seats with 98% of the vote counted.

The projection showed Mr. Gantz’s bloc of centrist, left-wing and Arab parties appeared set to get 57 seats, while Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition of right-wing and religious parties would get 55 seats.

Either would need the help of the small party, Yisrael Beiteinu, which looks set to get nine seats and is calling for a unity government between Likud and Blue and White.

Messrs. Gantz and Netanyahu met briefly on Thursday and shook hands at a memorial service for former prime minister and president Shimon Peres. Mr. Netanyahu’s office was also arranging a formal meeting on Thursday.

“Benny, we must form a broad national unity government today,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement, addressing his rival. “The nation expects of us, from the two of us, that we’ll be responsible and work together.”

While the statement wasn’t a concession, it marked a departure for a prime minister who values strength but seemed to be on the defensive.

“Netanyahu is no longer the Netanyahu we knew,” said Anshel Pfeffer, a Netanyahu biographer and longtime Israeli political journalist. “He’s no longer this guy that’s all powerful, that everyone is afraid of and can do anything.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose largely ceremonial position includes the important task of charging a politician with leading government-formation talks, is expected to speak to the country’s political parties in the coming days. He would likely choose either Mr. Netanyahu or Mr. Gantz based on how many recommendations he gets for each man from the parties.

On Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu pointed to the last successful unity government in the 1980s, when Likud and a center-left alliance shared power for several years. Mr. Peres was prime minister for two years before handing power to Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir in 1986.

“Shimon and Shamir agreed to work together to navigate Israel’s path to safety,” he said.

Mr. Netanyahu said his group of parties would go into coalition talks with Mr. Gantz as a group together. Likud and the other parties in the coalitions said Thursday they wouldn’t join any government that doesn’t include all of them.

That could pose a difficulty for talks. Avigdor Lieberman, the head of Yisrael Beiteinu, has said he wouldn’t sit with any religious parties. Mr. Gantz has said he wouldn’t sit in a government with Mr. Netanyahu while he is under investigation for alleged corruption.

Messrs. Gantz and Netanyahu have also traded sharp blows on the campaign trail, with each calling the other unfit for office.

Mr. Netanyahu has criticized Mr. Gantz for supporting the Iran deal, for being open to negotiating with the Palestinians, and for having too little experience for the top spot in the government.

Mr. Gantz has said Mr. Netanyahu has become corrupt and too willing to work with extremists. He has criticized his inability to bring quiet to Israel’s south, which has periodically come under rocket fire from the Gaza Strip for many years.

The election was Israel’s second in five months, called by Mr. Netanyahu after he failed to form a government in May. Mr. Lieberman, his former aide and ally, abandoned his coalition, saying he wanted a unity government that excluded religious parties.

That decision helped set in motion an election framed around issues that sometimes put Mr. Netanyahu on the defense.

Mr. Lieberman relentlessly criticized Mr. Netanyahu’s reliance on ultraorthodox parties to remain in power—which many Israelis resent for how they have wielded their power to restrict public transport on the Sabbath, set marital laws and avoid military service. Messrs. Netanyahu and Gantz have enough seats to form a government without Mr. Lieberman.

Mr. Netanyahu tried to rally his base by demonizing any future government without him as one that would be run by Arab parties, a contention that political analysts said was unlikely. The campaign included efforts to put cameras in polling stations, a move that Arab parties said was designed to depress their turnout.

Instead it appeared to have galvanized Israel’s Arab citizens, who turned out in higher numbers for a unified group of Arab parties that mobilized voters around what they said were Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to intimidate them.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, a group of Arab parties that received the third-most votes, could become Israel’s first Arab opposition leader in the event of a unity government. While Mr. Gantz has signaled an openness to the Joint List, the Arab parties have never served in an Israeli government to avoid appearing to support military operations against Palestinians.

Arab Parties Back Gantz In Bid To Oust Netanyahu

No candidate has enough support for a majority in Israel’s parliament, indicating weeks of jousting.

Israel’s Arab parties on Sunday backed Benny Gantz as prime minister, endorsing a potential leader for the first time in nearly three decades in a bid to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Gantz ’s new centrist party, Blue and White, won the most votes in last week’s election, with Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud a close second, leaving neither with enough seats to lead outright. Both are now jockeying to get the first chance to form a coalition government.

The Arab backing provided momentum for Mr. Gantz’s bid to lead the country, but by no means clinched it. Arab lawmakers said they wouldn’t sit in any government led by Mr. Gantz but would support him over Mr. Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving premier who they say has pursued policies that discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel.

Complicating matters, Avigdor Lieberman, seen as this election’s kingmaker, withheld support for both Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz, ensuring that neither would have a majority backing them to forge ahead.

Sunday’s moves highlighted the fractured nature of Israeli politics and set the tone for weeks of chess games, with Mr. Lieberman trying to influence them. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin began consulting with parties Sunday and is expected to choose who forms a government in the coming days or weeks.

Mr. Gantz is expected to pick up support from left-wing and centrist parties, while Mr. Netanyahu has received pledges from right-wing and religious parties. Neither is on track to receive support from 61 lawmakers to create a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

The results have put Mr. Netanyahu on the brink of losing power after he called a do-over election following his inability to form a government after a vote in April. Mr. Netanyahu faces a potential indictment on bribery and fraud allegations in the coming months, with a pretrial hearing next week, and would likely have to resign if charges were brought when he wasn’t prime minister.

“We’re in unprecedented times here in Israel,” said Mitchell Barak, a Jerusalem-based political analyst and pollster.

A surge in Arab turnout, to 60% from 49% in April, helped put the prime minister at a disadvantage.

Arab lawmakers usually abstain from recommending candidates for prime minister because they say Israel’s biggest political parties don’t support the country’s Arab citizens. This time, they decided ousting Mr. Netanyahu was more important than boycotting the nomination process, said Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, a union of four Arab parties that is the third-largest in Israel’s parliament, with 13 seats.

“For us, the most important thing is removing Benjamin Netanyahu from power,” Mr. Odeh said in a meeting with Mr. Rivlin on Sunday.

Mr. Odeh said the Joint List won’t serve in a Blue and White-led government. Their demands for joining would include a freeze on home demolitions in unrecognized Arab villages and immediately initiating a peace process with the Palestinian Authority based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Those positions would be politically challenging for Mr. Gantz or the head of any Zionist Israeli party to support, particularly since as much as 60% of the Jewish Israeli public identifies as right wing.

Balad, one of the four parties included in the Joint List, said later that it wouldn’t back Mr. Gantz, giving Blue and White 10 mandates from the Arab lawmakers.

Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party issued a statement criticized the Joint List’s move.

“We can’t have a government that relies on Arab parties that oppose the State of Israel,” it said.

Moshe Ya’alon, one of the heads of Blue and White, said Sunday the party will work toward forming a government with a broad spectrum of parties, including Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud, a coalition often called a unity government.

Mr. Lieberman cited the Arab parties’ support for Mr. Gantz as a reason he wouldn’t back him at this stage. At a news conference Sunday, he described the Arab parties as political enemies who are trying to ruin Israel from within.

“Wherever they are, we will be on the other side,” he said.

He also ruled out sitting with the Democratic Union, a left-wing group, and religious parties.

Mr. Rivlin said the Israeli public wants a stable government, which can’t happen without the two largest parties.

A unity government, for now, appears stymied by promises made ahead of the election, though it remains the most likely outcome. Mr. Gantz has said he would sit with Likud, but not with Mr. Netanyahu while he faces legal trouble. He has also promised not to sit with the religious parties.

Mr. Netanyahu said he would only sit in a government that included his right-wing and religious bloc, including two ultraorthodox parties.

It is up to Mr. Rivlin to square the circle of Israeli politics. Elected to the largely ceremonial role in 2014 after a long career with the Likud Party, Mr. Rivlin is widely respected and seen as being above Israel’s fractious politics. Experts said the apparent impasse could give Mr. Rivlin more power than the president has traditionally exercised.

“The question is, what is Rivlin going to do?” Mr. Barak said.

If the first person who gets the nod to form a government fails, Mr. Rivlin can give the mandate to a second person, likely the head of the second-largest party. If that fails, new elections are likely.

Updated: 10-21-2019

Israel’s Netanyahu Fails To Form New Government

President Rivlin gives Benny Gantz 28 days to try to hammer out ruling coalition.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he failed to form Israel’s next government after a September election that saw no clear winner, giving rival Benny Gantz the opportunity to create a coalition that would end the tenure of the country’s longest-serving premier.

President Reuven Rivlin said he would begin consultations Tuesday with the parties in the Knesset to initiate Mr. Gantz’s 28-day turn at trying to form a majority government of at least 61 seats in Israel’s parliament.

Mr. Gantz inherits political deadlock, as Mr. Netanyahu’s four weeks to form a government made virtually no progress. Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White party won the most seats in the September elections, 33 to Likud’s 32, but both parties have been unable to win over enough smaller parties to form governments without each other.

Mr. Netanyahu blamed Mr. Gantz and rival Avigdor Lieberman for the breakdown in discussions to form a coalition. The Israeli prime minister had been trying to form a unity government with Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White party, a centrist alliance led by three former chiefs of Israel’s military.

Mr. Gantz’s party has refused to form a coalition with Mr. Netanyahu as the leader of his party while he faces corruption charges—and also has been opposed to partnering with Israel’s religious parties. Mr. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing.

Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White party said it is “determined to form the next liberal unity government” under his rule, but he will need to either convince Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party to abandon its leader or go back on his promise not to include him in the government.

Mr. Netanyahu also failed to form a government after April elections, triggering a second vote in September.

Signaling that his 10 years in power might be over, Mr. Netanyahu said in his video message on Facebook that he would be open to serving as the opposition leader if Mr. Gantz tries to form a government that would rely on the support of Israel’s Arab parties, which he has accused of supporting terrorism and rejecting Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

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