Challenger Benny Gantz claimed victory over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel's election on Tuesday after two out of three TV exit polls gave his centrist party the biggest showing in parliamentary seats.
"We won! The Israeli public has had its say!" Gantz's Blue and White party said in a statement. There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu's conservative Likud.
However, two exit polls predicted a parliamentary majority for a Netanyahu-led bloc of rightist parties. The third exit poll predicted this bloc would be tied with centre-left parties that Gantz would have to enlist to form a coalition government.
Gantz, 59, is a popular former armed forces chief and a political newcomer.
He joined forces with the right-wing Moshe Yaalon, a former defence minister and the centre-left former finance minister Yair Lapid to form the new centrist Kahol Lavan party.
Here Anshel Pfeffer wrote the definitive profile of Gantz.
In late February Gantz and Yair Lapid dropped a political bombshell when they announced they would run on a joint ticket. Gantz’s Hosen L'Yisrael (Resilience for Israel) and Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There is a future) merged to become Kahol Lavan (Blue and White).
The new alliance announced the first 20 names on the Kahol Lavan slate:
Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya'alon, Gabi Ashkenazi, Avi Nissenkorn, Meir Cohen, Miki Haimovich, Ofer Shelah, Yoaz Hendel, Orna Barbivai, Michael Biton, Chili Tropper, Yael German, Zvi Hauser, Orit Farkash-Hacohen, Karin Elharrar, Meirav Cohen, Yoel Razvozov, Asaf Zamir, Izhar Shay.
Allison Kaplan Sommer explained how Kahol Lavan’s lack of women at the top of the party highlighted Israeli politics' gender gap. Gantz has since vowed to move toward a 50-50 gender representation in his party and boasts of having the first ultra-Orthodox female lawmaker and female Druze lawmaker in his party.
On the issues
Gantz has called for pursuing peace with the Palestinians while maintaining Israel's security interests.
He has signalled 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 5th term), invest more in education, allow public transportation on Shabbat and enact civil marriages.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party attacked Gantz, trying to brand him as mentally unstable and therefore unfit to serve in office.
Chemi Shalev explains how Gantz’s quintessential ‘Israeliness’ is his secret weapon against Netanyahu.
Likud Party officials decided on the move in late March, after a leaked recording of Gantz, arguing Netanyahu would like him dead, was aired on Channel 13 News. Likud since has seeked to paint Gantz as "insane, a cuckoo, mentally unstable," according to a party source.
Gantz has attacked Netanyahu for his role in the bribes-for-submarine scandal – aka Case 3000 - his campaign clearly hoped would turn the tide against Netanyahu and his “Mr. Security” image. Netanyahu seized on the alleged hacking of Gantz’s cellphone to insinuate that Gantz is no less than a security risk prone to Iranian blackmail.
The campaign aside, Gantz’s biggest obstacle to becoming prime minister however, is finding enough seats in the Knesset to form a government. The right wing bloc favors Netanyahu and is currently larger, meaning the even if Gantz’s party wins more seats than Netanyahu’s Likud, Netanyahu may still end up prime minister.
Gantz, in an attempt to silence critics, proposed a path to form a coalition government with Moshe Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu party, Moshe Feiglin’s far-right Zehut party and the ultra-Orthodox parties if he beats Likud by at least four seats in Tuesday’s election, sources in Kahol Lavan said a week before the election.
Gantz insists that another government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu would only last eight months until the prime minister is indicted in the corruption cases against him, the sources said. The attorney general has already moved to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing.
Reuters contributed to this article
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