Blue and White heads concede to Netanyahu, Right begins coalition talks

“We will stand together,” Gantz said. “This is my first day of the next decade in which I will serve the people every way I can.”

Benny Gantz  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Benny Gantz
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not have been officially tasked with forming the next government yet, but he is the likely victor after nearly all the votes were counted, and potential coalition partners began presenting their demands on Wednesday.
With 97% of the votes counted, the Right-haredi bloc had 65 seats, while the Center-Left-Arab bloc had 55. Likud and Blue and White were tied with 35 seats each, and Shas and UTJ each received 8. Labor has 6 seats, as does Hadash-Ta’al. Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP) received five, Yisrael Beytenu also received five and Kulanu, Meretz and UAL-Balad each got four seats.
The final vote tally is expected to come in on Thursday morning, after the “double envelope” votes of soldiers, diplomats and others are counted. The votes could have the greatest impact on The New Right, which is just below the 3.25% electoral threshold, and UAL-Balad, which is slightly above it.
Most of the parties in the right-wing bloc – Shas, UTJ, URP and Kulanu – already said they would recommend Netanyahu.
Netanyahu will be able to form a governing coalition that will enable him to withstand a bribery indictment by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit. Mandelblit indicted Netanyahu pending a hearing on February 28. Details of the indictment that were not permitted to be released during the election could be leaked as early as Thursday. The hearing is expected to take place in July and the decision on the final indictment some six months later.
The parties that said clearly ahead of the election that Netanyahu would not have to quit following a final indictment were Likud, Shas, UTJ, URP and Yisrael Beytenu, which won 61 seats, according to preliminary results.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz did not call Netanyahu to concede the race, but said he accepted the decision of the public. He left open the possibility that the IDF soldiers could still give Blue and White the lead and President Reuven Rivlin could still ask him to form the government.
“The battle is not yet over,” Gantz told Blue and White candidates. “There is dialogue. We will see what happens with the president.”
Likud celebrated its victory, with a senior party source saying on Wednesday evening that Netanyahu has already made progress in coalition talks with other right-wing parties.
“The Israeli public had its say and gave Netanyahu its full trust and a clear mandate to continue leading Israel to great achievements in the next four years,” the source said.
The Likud may have surged from 30 to 35 seats, but its senior MKs may not be able to get the ministries it had hoped for because of demands from potential coalition partners.
Netanyahu hopes to retain the Defense portfolio, but Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman seeks to return to the position he held until November.
Liberman, who was spotted in Ben-Gurion Airport leaving the country for a vacation – a tactic of playing hard-to-get that he’s used in past coalition talks – also plans to demand freedom to enact his own strategy to defeat Hamas and for the coalition to pass a haredi enlistment law.
Another Netanyahu promise that may be hard to keep is that a Likud MK will become education minister; URP seeks that portfolio, as well as the Justice Ministry, which some in Likud have been eyeing.
Likud sources have also suggested that Netanyahu will offer Liberman and Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, who seeks to remain Finance Minister, to merge their parties with Likud, where both have a past.
Also Wednesday, the President’s Residence announced that in order to maximize transparency it will allow live broadcasts of the consultations between Rivlin and party leaders for the first time when they take place next week.
The meetings will begin next week after there are final, certified election results. The country’s Basic Law: Government states that the president must meet with representatives of all the factions in the Knesset before tasking an MK with forming the next government. The president must appoint the prime minister within a week of the official results being publicized.
Rivlin visited the Central Elections Committee in the Knesset Wednesday to see the vote-counting and meet with committee chairman and Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer.
The president thanked the committee staff in the name of Israeli citizens.
“Thanks to every one of you, we are certain that the will of the people is being expressed most accurately and that the rights of the people to fair elections and verified and precise information are being kept,” Rivlin said.