Every American president in modern times has been staunchly pro-Israel, President Donald Trump perhaps more than most. USA TODAY
For the second time in less than six months, Israelis failed Tuesday to convincingly back a prime minister in an election that highlighted the Jewish state’s complex secular-religious divide and pitted its longest-serving leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, against Benny Gantz, the hawkish former head of Israel’s military.
Netanyahu, 69, was hoping to win an outright majority that would have seen him secure a record fifth term. A former commando whose tenure has been defined by promises to keep Israel secure and prosperous, while sidelining the Palestinians, he could see his decade-long dominance of Israel’s extremely polarized politics abruptly end.
Gantz, 59, has bragged about flattening entire residential neighborhoods during two wars Israel fought with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Exit polls predicated that neither politician’s party secured a majority, meaning that in order for either to form a government each would need to enter into a coalition deal with opposition parties. Forming a coalition could take days or weeks. Netanyahu failed to form a government in a vote in April, which set up Tuesday’s election do-over.
The exit polls, carried live on three Israeli television stations, showed that Gantz’s Blue and White party was slightly ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud party.
However, neither party apparently secured a majority in the 120-seat parliament.
The most likely party each candidate would seek to do a deal with is the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu, headed by Avigdor Lieberman, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who is also a settler, an Israeli Jew who lives on land claimed by Palestinians. Settlements are considered to be a major obstacle to peace in the long-festering conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that has been running more than 70 years.
It’s possible that a third vote could also be called.
Ahead of the contest, Netanyahu attempted to energize his center-right base by appealing to voters’ anxieties over Iran, the role of religion in schools, Arab Israeli minorities and the country’s position on settlements – communities of Israeli Jews that build homes on Palestinian-claimed land in the West Bank. “Right now, we’re losing,” he said in a Sunday night campaign video. “If you go out and vote Likud, we’ll win.”
He has also repeatedly boasted of his close relationship with President Donald Trump, who has undertaken a series of high-profile, pro-Israel actions from moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to recognizing the Golan Heights. Huge billboards of Netanyahu and Trump side-by-side are plastered all over the country.
Among major industrialized powers, only Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and German leader Angela Merkel have led for longer than Netanyahu. However, his tenure in recent years has equally been defined by a series of corruption probes that are looming over him once he leaves office. Among the allegations are bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu disputes the allegations.
Netanyahu is due to face a pre-indictment hearing within weeks, which provided him with another reason to want to secure a majority: An outright victory would have given him the ability to pass a law that would give him immunity from prosecution.
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