Israel Election Results: Netanyahu Says No Choice but to Form Broad Unity Government

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Yuli Edelstein and Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud meeting on September 18, 2019.
Yuli Edelstein and Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud meeting on September 18, 2019.Credit:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted on Thursday at a possible rotating premiership deal with election challenger Benny Gantz after inviting his centrist rival to join him in government.

Speaking at a memorial ceremony for former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Netanyahu noted that the late left-wing statesman had forged a coalition with conservative Yitzhak Shamir in which they rotated top office between 1984 and 1988.

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"When there was no clear victory in Knesset (parliamentary) elections, Shimon opted for national unity. He and Yitzhak Shamir agreed to cooperate in order to navigate Israel to a safe shore," Netanyahu said in the speech, attended by Gantz, who appeared tied with the incumbent after Tuesday's Israeli ballot.

"In this election, too, there is no clear win. And I call on you, Benny ... Let us work together to again bring the State of Israel to safe shores."

Gantz's Kahol Lavan is ahead of Netanyahu's Likud Party, according to official election results released on Wednesday after 97 percent of the vote was counted. The results show that neither of the parties have a clear path to securing a majority in Knesset. (Who is Benny Gantz? Read the full profile)

With 97 percent of the votes counted, Kahol Lavan has won 33 out of 120 Knesset seats, with Likud behind with 31 seats. Netanyahu's bloc, comprised of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties, currently stands at 55 seats. The center-left bloc has 57 seats.

Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beiteinu party is projected to have eight seats, is expected to be the election's kingmaker. On Wednesday morning, he reiterated his support for a "broad liberal unity government," which would include Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud and Kahol Lavan. 

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The third largest party in the Knesset is the Joint List of Arab parties, with 13 seats. It is followed by ultra-Orthodox party Shas, which gets nine seats and United Torah Judaism, which gets eight seats. Ayelet Shaked's Yamina gets seven seats, the results indicate, Labor-Gesher get six and Democratic Union get five seats.

Here is how the day's news unfolded:

10:20 A.M. Netanyahu to Gantz: Let's meet today, we must form a broad unity government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that despite his efforts to build a right wing government, "there is no choice but to form a broad unity government."

"Benny, it is on us to form a broad unity government. Today. The nation expects us, both of us, to accept responsibility and work together," Netanyahu said.

"So I'm calling on you, Benny, let's meet today, at any hour, to advance this process that is the mission of the hour. We cannot go to third elections, there's no reason to – I oppose it," Netanyahu said. 

Netanyahu added that he had spoken to the right-wing leaders and they plan to enter the negotiations for the national unity government as a unified bloc, saying that the government should be "as wide as possible."

9:50 A.M. Gantz's party in the lead with 33 seats as 97 percent of vote counted

Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, September 17, 2019. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum, Ofer Vaknin
Netanyahu talks to supporters after coming in second in Israel's election TuesdayCredit: \ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

With 97 percent of the vote counted, Kahol Lavan gained a seat, giving them 33 and placing them two seats ahead of Likud. Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu lost a seat, bringing its total down to eight. The center-left bloc now has 57 mandates and is leading the right-wing bloc by two seats. 

8:45 A.M. Ayelet Shaked says she hasn't yet agreed to joint a Netanyahu government

Leader of Yamina, Ayelet Shaked, said Thursday morning that her party has not yet agreed to join a right-wing government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The prime minister has asked that we join the bloc, but we have to think about it," Shaked told Kan Bet.

Netanyahu announced Wednesday that he had met with the leaders of the right-wing parties and begun negotiations to form a coalition. Netanyahu is expected to meet again with the party leaders at 9 A.M. on Thursday.

Shaked said her party is "not ruling out anyone." She added that she's not opposed to "Kahol Lavan joining the coalition or [Labor's] Amir Peretz, or Lieberman... The most important thing is that we don't force the nation into a third election."

Chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu Avigdor Lieberman, September 17, 2019. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Benny Gantz, speaking to supporters after taking the lead in Israeli election 2019 Credit: AFP
Yamina Chairwoman Ayelet Shaked, September 17, 2019. Credit: David Bachar

9:15 P.M. Labor-Gesher chairman urges bringing Arab parties to the negotiating table

Labor-Gesher Chairman Amir Peretz says in a press conference that the parties comprising the Arab Joint List should be brought into coalition negotiations. He adds that he has spoken to Gantz and that the two will meet in the coming days, and reiterates that he will refuse to sit in a coalition with Netanyahu.

8:46 P.M. Trump: 'Our relationship is with Israel'

President Trump tells reporters he is following the results of the Israeli election, which are "coming in and it's very close," and that he hasn't spoken to Netanyahu. "Our relationship is with Israel," he says. Read the full story here

7:10 P.M. Likud minister: Door is open for negotiations with Gantz

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, a member of Likud, says the door is open for negotiations with Gantz, as long as he agrees to withdraw his demand that Likud drop Netanyahu as its leader.

6:23 P.M. Netanyahu: Choice is between me and dangerous government relying on Arabs

In a brief statement to the press, Netanyahu says the choice is now between a government led by him or a "dangerous government" relying on "anti-Zionist Arab parties." Likud and the right-wing Hayamin Hehadash and Habayit Hayehudi parties have agreed to begin negotiations to form a Netanyahu-led coalition, he adds.

6:07 P.M. Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz to speak at UN instead of Netanyahu

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz will speak at the UN General Assembly next week instead of Netanyahu, the prime minister's spokeswoman says. 

5:36 P.M. Netanyahu cancels participation in UN General Assembly

Netanyahu's office says the prime minister will not travel to New York next week for the UN General Assembly in the wake of the election results. 

3:48 P.M. Netanyahu to give press statement at Likud meeting scheduled for 6 P.M. 

3:20 P.M. Sources in Yamina: We're heading to the opposition

The Yamina right-wing alliance led by Ayelet Shaked intends to be part of the opposition in the next Knesset, party sources tell Haaretz – regardless of whether the alliance stays together or splits apart.

One Yamina source says that it's impossible for Hayamin Hehadash, one of the parties in Yamina, to sit in a Gantz-led government alongside Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Union, and that a Likud-Kahol Lavan unity government would have no need for the party and would not give its members any position of importance if they join. Being part of the opposition could place Shaked and her colleague Naftali Bennett as an alternative to Likud, the source says.

2:50 P.M. Arab voter turnout rises to 60 percent

The voter turnout in Arab communities rose to 60 percent in this election compared with 50 percent in the April ballot, partial results of Israel's ballot indicate. 

Leaders of the Joint List, heralded the result as a victory over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi tweeted "We voted in droves," alluding to a 2015 Election Day declaration that “The Arabs are flocking to the polls in droves.”

1:44 P.M. Israeli president not expected to immediately summon Netanyahu, Gantz 

A meeting between President Reuven Rivlin and the leaders of the two largest parties is likely in light of the current tie, but first he needs to hold consultations with all the parties that made it into the Knesset. Rivlin believes that taking an initiative to encourage a unity government before he hears from the different party representatives would be a dishonor to Knesset traditions. Read the full story here...

12:28 P.M. Israelis have spoken - the Netanyahu era is over

After a crude and thuggish campaign, in which he trampled the election laws alongside his son, who attacked every government institution, it looks as though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is closer than ever to losing power. Avigdor Lieberman, on the other hand, who repeated his pre-election promises, will probably be the key person in the next Knesset. Read Yossi Verter's full analysis here...

10:30 A.M. Netanyahu crony admits cameras at polling stations was bad idea

Likud lawmaker and Netanyahu loyalist Miki Zohar said his party was damaged by its failed attempt to pass a law allowing parties to film voters in polling stations, “out of belief that there is voter fraud in polling stations in Arab towns.”

“Without a doubt, the cameras campaign came back at us like a boomerang,” Zohar said, adding that Joint List leaders took advantage of the campaign, seen as an attempt to intimidate voters, and capitalized on it to increase Arab voter turnout.

10:20 A.M. Ayman Odeh: I want to be leader of the opposition

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said that he is interested in being the leader of the Knesset opposition, including “attending security briefings.”

Odeh acknowledged that he spoke on the phone with Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz on Tuesday night, but added that their conversation was “nothing new… He didn’t mention me [in his speech] and I think it’s on purpose. It’s the result of a decade of de-legitimizing [Arabs] in politics.”

In a scenario of a unity government consisting of Likud and Kahol Lavan, Ayman Odeh would be the leader of the largest party not in government, possibly becoming the first Arab leader of the opposition in Israel’s history.  

10:12 A.M. Gantz calls for 'a good and desirable unity government'

Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz said he is awaiting the final election results and in the meantime, "wishes Israel a good and desirable unity government” – referring to the possibility of a ruling coalition comprised of his party and Netanyahu’s Likud.

Leaders of the Joint List, September 17, 2019. Credit: Gil Eliahu

10:10 A.M. Smotrich: Kahanist party wasted right-wing votes

Bezalel Smotrich from the far-right Yamina party attacked the leader of Otzma Yehudit Itamar Ben-Gvir, saying he is responsible for “burning” tens of thousands of right-wing votes.

According to all predictions, far-right Otzma Yehudit party, founded by followers of late Rabbi Meir Kahane, fails to pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold and will not enter Israel’s 22nd Knesset.

9:53 A.M. Final results expected by Wednesday afternoon 

The director of the Israel's Central Elections Committee said nearly all of the votes have been counted and processed. In an interview with Channel 13, Orly Adas said the final results will be published by Wednesday afternoon.

The delay, she said, was due to a new method of counting and processing which is intended to avoid errors and ensure suspected voter fraud is examined before results are released

8:01 A.M. Lieberman: There is only one viable coalition option

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman commented on the election results Wednesday morning, saying: "The picture is clear... There is only one option and it's a broad liberal unity government," referring to a scenario in which a coalition is composed of Yisrael Beiteinu and rival leading parties Likud and Kahol Lavan.

Lieberman said he will not join any other coalition. "We will not sit with the Arab party [Joint List], that's absurd." He added that his condition for negotiations is a commitment to draft ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to the Israeli military – an issue that led to the repeat election in the first place, when Netanyahu failed to bridge between Yisrael Beiteinu and ultra-Orthodox parties in building a right-wing, Haredi coalition. 

7:36 A.M. In defeat, Netanyahu looks to Iran and Trump for salvation

After what looks like an almost certain failure to secure a majority coalition in Israel's Tuesday election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn't need anyone to tell him about the murmurings within Likud that his own party should start thinking about a change in leadership. He suspects they are there, and have been for a while.Read Anshel Pfeffer's full analysis here...

6:57 A.M. 92% of votes counted: Likud, Kahol Lavan tied

According to a source in Israel’s Central Elections Committee, with 92 percent of the votes counted, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan are tied with 32 out of 120 seats each. The Joint List, an alliance of four Arab parties, is slated to be the third largest party in the Knesset with 12 seats.

Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and ultra-Orthodox Shas have nine seats each, followed closely by United Torah Judaism with eight. Right-wing alliance Yamina has seven seats, according the partial count, followed by Labor-Gesher with six seats and the Democratic Union with five. [Aaron Rabinowitz]

6:22 A.M. Delay in release of official results; most Arab votes not processed yet

The release of official election results is delayed following changes made by the Central Elections Committee to the processing method of votes. According to the election board, the changes that led to delays, compared to previous election cycles, are intended to avoid errors and ensure suspected voter fraud is examined before official results are released.

Early Wednesday morning, the committee reported it has officially processed 1,647,794 envelopes, which amount to only 37 percent of the total number of votes cast on Tuesday. However, over 85 percent of the votes had actually been counted at that point. 

Therefore, official data on the Central Elections Committee’s website gives an incomplete picture of the results. 

For example, the Joint List, an alliance of four Arab parties, is shown as failing to pass the 3.25-percent electoral threshold, whereas exit polls project it would be the third largest party in the Knesset. The reason for this discrepancy is that vast majority of ballots from Arab locales have yet to be fully processed.

6 A.M. Will Lieberman go all the way with his promise to take down Netanyahu?

It appears that all the commotion, the suspense, the money spent, and the energy invested, all of it was in vain. The entire festival of Israel's election brought us back to pretty much the same place. We already know that Avigdor Lieberman is the key figure in Israeli politics.

The only lingering question that will remain with us in the coming autumn is the same one that accompanied us during the last coalition negotiations: Will Lieberman follow through? Read Ravit Hecht's full analysis here...

3:30 A.M. Netanyahu warns of 'dangerous anti-Zionist government' as supporters chant 'we don't want unity'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to form a “strong, Zionist government” after his Likud party came in second in exit polls in Israel’s election, warning his supporters of a “dangerous, anti-Zionist government.”

Speaking to a half-empty hall at the Likud campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu added he already began negotiations with Likud’s potential coalition partners on the right wing. “They all committed to pursue our goals together,” Netanyahu said, as his supporters chanted “We don’t want unity [government].”

Netanyahu also said “This election has been one of the toughest we’d known,” blasting “one-sided media that was against us. It didn’t stop us.”

"There won't and cannot be a government supported by anti-Zionist Arab parties who deny the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, who glorify bloodthirsty terrorists who murder our soldiers," Netanyahu added.

Netanyahu also said “This election has been one of the toughest we’d known,” blasting “one-sided media that was against us. It didn’t stop us.”

3:00 A.M. Benny Gantz speaks to Joint List's Ayman Odeh

Leader of Kahol Lavan Benny Gantz spoke to the leader of the Arab Joint List, Ayman Odeh, on the phone. Gantz told supporters earlier that he would speak to all the parties about forming a national unity government.

2:30 A.M. Benny Gantz: We'll wait for the full results, but it seems we've succeeded

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz said Tuesday overnight he would work to establish a national unity government in Israel.

"We stuck to our mission and to our path," Gantz said at his party's headquarters in Tel Aviv, hours after exit polls in Israel's election show his center-left party has secured a lead over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud, urging his supporters to wait for final election results to be released.

"According to the results we have now, it seems over a million Israeli citizens" support Kahol Lavan, Gantz said, stressing that exit polls show Netanyahu failed in his reelection bid. "This is the start of the journey to mend the Israeli society." Read the full story here

2:07 A.M. Channel 12 updated exit poll shows Kahol Lavan and Likud are tied

Kahol Lavan: 32

Likud: 32

Joint List: 13

Yisrael Beiteinu: 9

Shas: 9

United Torah Judaism: 7

Yamina: 7

Labor: 6

Democratic Union: 5

1:29 A.M. All updated exit polls show Kahol Lavan leading Likud

Shas Chairman Arye Dery at campaign headquarters on September 17, 2019.
Benny Gantz taking a selfie with a supporter on Election Day, September 17, 2019.
Ayelet Shaked in Jerusalem on Election Day, September 17, 2019.
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Shas Chairman Arye Dery at campaign headquarters on September 17, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman
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Benny Gantz taking a selfie with a supporter on Election Day, September 17, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
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Ayelet Shaked in Jerusalem on Election Day, September 17, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

In an updated exit poll released by Kan 11, Likud fell to 31 seats, breaking the previously reported tie between Likud and Kahol Lavan. Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu lost one seat. The Joint List gained a seat as did Labor-Gesher.

Kahol Lavan: 32

Likud: 31

Joint List: 13 

Shas: 9

Yisrael Beiteinu: 9

United Torah Judaism: 8

Yamina: 7

Democratic Union: 5

Labor: 6

12:59 A.M. Joint List surges to 15 seats

In an updated exit poll released by Channel 13 the Joint Arab List received 15 seats, the most they have ever received in an Israeli election. Both Netanyahu's Likud and Gantz's Kahol Lavan shrunk by one vote.

Kahol Lavan: 32

Likud: 30

Joint List: 15

Shas: 9

Yisrael Beiteinu: 8

United Torah Judaism: 8

Yamina: 6

Democratic Union: 6

Labor: 6

12:24 A.M. Litzman says United Torah Judaism will recommend Netanyahu for prime minister

Chairman of United Torah Judaism, Yaakov Litzman, said, "We are not against a unity government, but it cannot include [Yair] Lapid. We spoke with Netanyahu and we will recommend him for prime minister."

"To our disappointment, the election was riddled with incitement against the ultra-Orthodox," he added.

12:10 A.M. Kahol Lavan appointing special team for coalition negotiations

Benny Gantz decided to assemble a special team to handle the party's coalition negotiations, Kahol Lavan said. The team has already started work.

12:05 A.M. Dery says Shas will recommend Netanyahu for prime minister

Shas Chairman Arye Dery said he will recommend that Netanyahu be tasked with forming the government. "Despite the fact that the prime minister didn't leave any stone unturned, and we saw how he took votes from us in the periphery… we will recommend Benjamin Netanyahu to the president," Dery said.

"It was an election campaign of great incitement and rifts in the nation. We tried to run a nice, clean campaign. I want to tell you all that we are one nation and we have to live together. I call on everyone to forget the incitement and speak like Jews," he said.

11:50 P.M. Voter turnout higher than previous election

Final voter turnout in Israel's second election of 2019 is 69.4 percent – higher than April's election, in which voter turnout was 67.9 percent 

11:45 P.M. Lieberman calls for a unity government

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman reiterated in his speech at party headquarters that "We have only one option - a broad liberal unity government including Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud and Kahol Lavan." He said that unity governments are an emergency measure, and that "both security- and economy-wise, this is an emergency. More than we can imagine." 

11:24 P.M. Who is Benny Gantz?

Gantz has called for pursuing peace with the Palestinians while maintaining Israel's security interests.

He has signaled he would make territorial concessions toward the Palestinians, but has also sidestepped the question of Palestinian statehood. His party is also running on a platform promising to impose term limits on the prime minister (Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term), invest more in education, allow public transportation on Shabbat and enact civil marriages. Read more here.

10:47 P.M. Democratic Union head: We are at the height of a major political drama

Democratic Union Chairman Nitzan Horowitz said after election polls were released that "we are at the height of a major political drama." There is a historic opportunity to save Israeli democracy, he said, but stressed that "We have a very long night ahead of us...we need to wait for the real results. The results may take us to the right."  

10:46 P.M. Tentative atmosphere at Kahol Lavan headquarters

Though the three exit polls showed that Netanyahu does not have a majority in the Knesset, the atmosphere at Kahol Lavan headquarters in Tel Aviv was weary, rather than elated. None of the party leaders had arrived at the Tel Aviv port facility where the party was holding its event. The crowd – mainly members of the press – was relatively small, and there was little excitement in the air. This contrasted sharply with the atmosphere on election night in April, when the exit polls also showed the two major parties neck and neck, but that time, with an advantage to the right-wing bloc. [Judy Maltz]

10:38 P.M. Israeli President Rivlin to convene parties for consultations to tap candidate 

President Reuven Rivlin will convene the different political parties for a round of consultations in order to decide who will be the candidate he will select to attempt to form a governing coalition, his office stated following the publication of exit polls.

10:36 P.M. Netanyahu makes agreements with Yamina and United Torah Judaism

Netanyahu spoke with United Torah Judaism's Yaakov Litzman and Yamina's Naftali Bennett, all of whom agreed to work together. 

10:30 P.M. Ohana: We can have a unity government without Lieberman; Odeh: We'll send Netanyahu home

Justice Minister and Likud MK Amir Ohana said that it is still too early to tell, and that we must wait before calling it, as "five months ago Gantz gave his victory speech." He added, "You talked about a unity government – according to all the numbers, we can do all of this without Lieberman, too. I will recommend to the prime minister that if we go with this, it will be without Lieberman.

At Joint List headquarters, party chairman Ayman Odeh addressed the public: "I thank our public: We made a great achievement, the Arab public answered and went out and had great faith in the Joint List. I believe that we will get 13 seats and send Netanyahu the inciter home." [Jack Khoury]

10:16 P.M. Banned Otzma Yehudit candidate responds to results

Responding to his party's failure to pass the electoral threshold in exit polls, Benzi Gopstein, whose candidacy in Otzma Yehudit was struck down by the Supreme Court, said:  "We were right every step of the way. Without Otzma Yehudit, there is no right-wing government." He continued, "Thank God, we showed that there is much Jewish strength [the Hebrew name of the party] in Israel" and said the party would run in the next election.

9:13 P.M. Voter turnout higher than in April election

As of 8:00 P.M., the voter turnout in Israel was 63.7 percent, 2.4 points higher than it was in April, according to the Central Elections Committee.

8:50 P.M. Every politician is now a wanna-Bibi with Netanyahu's 'losing' strategy 

As journalists and Kahol Lavan activists arrived at the Rosh Ha’ayin polling station Tuesday morning to provide the backdrop for Benny Gantz’s arrival to vote, the first thing they saw was a giant Likud battle bus parked in front of the Nofim school.

This wasn’t just any Likud bus. This was the “Miribus,” Culture Minister Miri Regev’s election ride across the country, in which she has regaled voters with blaring nationalist songs and impromptu interviews... Read the full story here

7:22 P.M. Palestinian Authority denies election interference

The chairman of Fatah's Central Committee, Hussein Al-Sheikh, denied Netanyahu’s claims that the Palestinian Authority is interfering in the Israeli election. Al-Sheikh said Netanyahu and Likud allegations are false and constitute “wild incitement against the PA and its leaders.”

In past elections, including the April election, the Palestinian Authority tried to encourage Israel’s Arabs to vote in higher numbers and even supported the creation of a new Jewish-Arab political party. These efforts were met with criticism from the Arab public, and reportedly contributed to internal disputes within the Joint List. 

5:30 P.M. Facebook reactivates Netanyahu’s chatbot 

Netanyahu’s automated messaging bot comes alive after being suspended by Facebook for three hours. Netanyahu removed previous posts that breached Israeli election law and promised not violate it in the future.

Facebook reactivated the private messaging function following a directive from the Central Elections Committee. 

For earlier Election Day updates, click here

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