3 days after election, Austria’s Kurz the only world leader to congratulate PM

Despite Netanyahu’s apparent inability to form a governing coalition, chancellor feted ‘clear election victory’; so far no word from Trump or Modi

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 11, 2018. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 11, 2018. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool)

Three days after Monday’s indecisive Knesset election, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz remains the only world leader to congratulate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his ostensible success.

“Sincere congratulations to Prime Minister @netanyahu on his clear election victory! I am looking forward to continuing to work together with you in order to further strengthen our excellent bilateral relations and fight anti-Semitism & anti-Zionism,” he tweeted on Tuesday, long before all votes had been counted and the Central Election Committee had published conclusive results.

On Thursday afternoon, the Prime Minister’s Office declined to say whether Netanyahu had received any additional congratulatory messages.

Notably, US President Donald Trump has yet to comment on Tuesday’s Knesset election.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 28, 2020, to announce the Trump administration’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

By contrast, Trump had called Netanyahu from aboard Air Force to congratulate him on April 10, 2019 — one day after the first round of the current election cycle.

“I think we have a better chance now that Bibi has won,” Trump told reporters at the time, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “The fact that Bibi has won, I think we’ll see some pretty good actions in terms of peace.”

In April, Netanyahu’s Likud party and the rival Blue and White list received 35 Knesset seats. The prime minister’s inability to form a government coalition led to snap elections on September 17, in which Blue and White clinched 33 mandates and Likud 32.

The second time, Trump did not rush to congratulate Netanyahu.

“Those results are coming in and it’s very close,” Trump said. “Everybody knew it’s going to be very close. I said we’ll see what happens,” he told reporters on September 18.

“Look, our relationship is with Israel. We’ll see what happens,” he added, which many observers interpreted as a sign of the US president seeking to distance himself from the embattled premier.

US President Donald Trump meets with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz in the White House in Washington on January 27, 2020. (Elad Malka)

Neither party managed to cobble together a government, necessitating a third round of elections. While Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party this week won an impressive 36 seats — gaining four mandates from the previous round — he lacks a majority of 61 MKs to establish a ruling coalition.

Further complicating the effort of Israel’s longest-serving premier to secure another term are two possible piece of legislation that his political rivals are currently advancing: laws to prevent a prime minister who was indicted from serving and to limit any prime minister from serving more than two consecutive terms.

On Thursday, Netanyahu’s former political ally Avigdor Liberman announced that his Yisrael Beytenu party would support such legislation, making it look like a realistic course of action for Gantz and his left-wing allies from the Labor-Gesher-Meretz party.

The overwhelmingly Arab Joint is also expected to back said bills, which would mean they could reach a majority in the Knesset.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (R) and Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman talk to the press after meeting in Ramat Gan on November 14, 2019. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

In late January — in the middle of what Trump jokingly called the “the longest-running election of all time” — the president hosted both Netanyahu and Gantz for separate meetings at the White House.

Also notable is the fact that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has remained mum so far on the ostensible election win by his personal friend Netanyahu. The two leaders are known to congratulate each other frequently on various occasion, often via social media.

The official results of Tuesday’s election will only be published on March 10, though 99.9 percent of the votes had been counted by Wednesday evening.

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