JERUSALEM (AFP) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger Benny Gantz were deadlocked yesterday after an Israeli general election, reports said, raising the possibility of a unity government or even the end of the premier’s long rule.
Various Israeli media reported that Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White had 32 seats each of parliament’s 120 with more than 90 per cent of the vote counted.
The reports were citing sources with the elections committee as that level of results had not been officially posted yet.
The results gave no obvious path for either to form a majority coalition, raising the possibility of negotiations towards a unity government.
If the results hold, it will be a major setback for Netanyahu, who hoped to form a right-wing coalition similar to his current one as he faces the possibility of corruption charges in the weeks ahead.
With a hoarse voice and appearing haggard after days of intense campaigning, Netanyahu spoke before supporters in the early hours of yesterday and said he was prepared for negotiations to form a “strong Zionist government”.
He seemed to hint at openness to forming a national unity government, but did not specifically say so.
In his speech to supporters in Tel Aviv early yesterday, Gantz called for a “broad unity government” but cautioned that he was waiting for final results.
“We will act to form a broad unity government that will express the will of the people,” the former armed forces chief said.
“We will begin negotiations and I will speak with everyone.”
Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman could prove to be kingmaker, with the reported results showing his nationalist Yisrael Beitenu with nine seats. The mainly Arab Joint List alliance was set to become the third-largest force in parliament with 12 seats, the reports said.
That could put the Arab parties in position to block Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister if they decide to break with precedent and endorse Gantz for the job.
Israel’s Arab parties have traditionally not endorsed anyone for prime minister.
“The main difference in this vote is the turnout among Arab citizens,” Joint List leader Ayman Odeh told journalists outside his home in the northern city of Haifa yesterday.