Amid fog of polls, Gantz vows to be next leader, PM says he’s in coalition talks
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2019 Knesset elections

Amid fog of polls, Gantz vows to be next leader, PM says he’s in coalition talks

Blue and White leader makes victory speech to supporters, vows to be ‘prime minister of everyone,’ thanks Netanyahu ‘for his long service to the state’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Head of the Blue White party Benny Gantz (2L) and his top allies Moshe Ya'alon, Gabi Ashkenazi and Yair Lapid greet supporters following the release of exit polls at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 9, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Head of the Blue White party Benny Gantz (2L) and his top allies Moshe Ya'alon, Gabi Ashkenazi and Yair Lapid greet supporters following the release of exit polls at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 9, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Declaring victory, though it remained far from assured Monday night, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz said he would be the next prime minister of Israel and would “form a wide coalition that represents the whole of Israel.”

“A great light shines out on Israel tonight,” Gantz said as he and party leaders Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabbi Ashkenazi were welcomed by loud cheers at his party’s election headquarters in the Tel Aviv Expo Center. “This is a historic day. More than a million people chose hope.”

Gantz’s speech came after one exit poll showed the party poised to possibly unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, though two other exit polls predicted a fairly straightforward path to victory for the incumbent. Official results were only expected to trickle in later in the night.

Both party leaders used the results to declare victory. While Gantz spoke, Netanyahu’s party released a statement saying he was “in the very advanced stages of forming a coalition.”

Likud supporters react to the first voting results in the Israeli general elections, at the Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 09, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Gantz thanked Netanyahu “for his long service to the state” and wished him well for “the next stage in his life.”

But marking a departure from Netanyahu’s often divisive rhetoric, Gantz vowed to “be the prime minister of everyone and not just those who voted for me… We all need to think about how we can work together, how we can bring everyone into the discussion.”

The Blue and White leader asserted that Netanyahu would soon be “overwhelmed with his criminal cases and cannot deal with the challenges of this country, which are many.

Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White Party embraces with party leaders after the release of exit polls in the general elections, at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 09, 2019 (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

“We must form a coalition as fast as possible and we will form one which cares for the people of Israel, their health, their transport, their welfare, their security. From tomorrow, the future is Blue and White.”

Netanyahu also declared victory, after a pair of exit polls gave his Likud and other right-wing parties a majority of Knesset seats.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during press conference at his office in Jerusalem on April 3, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

And several key party leaders said they would recommend Netanyahu to lead the next government, including the heads of Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism and moderate-right party Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon.

Netanyahu was expected to address supporters later and claim he’d secured the premiership for another term.

Following the release of the exit polls he tweeted: @The right-wing bloc led by Likud won a clear victory. I thank the citizens of Israel for your trust. I will start assembling a right-wing government with our natural partners this very evening.”

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