Blue and White concedes race, vows to battle Netanyahu from opposition

Benny Gantz says ‘we respect the decision of the people,’ touts support from one million voters; Lapid says centrist alliance will ’embitter the government’s life’

Leaders of the Blue and White party, left to right, Gabi Ashkenazi, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya'alon at a press conference at party headquarters in Tel Aviv, April 2019. (Flash90)
Leaders of the Blue and White party, left to right, Gabi Ashkenazi, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya'alon at a press conference at party headquarters in Tel Aviv, April 2019. (Flash90)

The Blue and White party conceded the election race on Wednesday to Likud, while vowing to strongly challenge a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the opposition.

“We respect the decision of the people,” Gantz told journalists, acknowledging his centrist Blue and White alliance had failed to unseat Netanyahu in Tuesday’s elections.

However, Gantz also said his party’s fight was not over and that Blue and White was in “advanced talks” with other parties, without elaborating.

Though Blue and White was tied with Netanyahu’s Likud at 35 seats with over 97 percent of ballots counted, it was trailing the party by some 13,000 votes and had no clear path to assembling a ruling majority in the 120-seat Knesset. The right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu’s Likud is poised to receive some 65 seats, compared to some 55 for the center-left, giving it a clear path to victory.

Despite the party’s loss to Likud, Gantz touted the party’s “unprecedented” electoral showing.

“We reached an extraordinary result. Over a million people chose a ballot slip of a faction they did not know existed 10 weeks ago,” Gantz said. “We established a true alternative to the government.”

Benny Gantz reacts as he appears before supporters at the alliance headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 10, 2019. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Gantz thanked his supporters and ripped Netanyahu over his election campaign, accusing the prime minister of pandering to “extremists” and siphoning support from his right-wing political allies.

Speaking before Gantz, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid vowed the party would strongly resist a Netanyahu-led government’s policies from the opposition.

“In the opposition we will embitter the government’s life. The days are over when the opposition just tried to crawl into the government,” said Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party that merged with Gantz to form Blue and White has served in the opposition since 2015.

“The Knesset will be a battleground,” Lapid added.

Lapid said the party was gearing up for another round of elections a year from now on the assumption that Netanyahu will be forced to step down over corruption charges, echoing remarks he made earlier Wednesday that “the 2020 campaign began today.”

His comments alluded to corruption allegations against Netanyahu. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit recommended in February that Netanyahu be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a series of criminal investigations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) greets supporters at his Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv on election night early on April 10, 2019. (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP)

Before an indictment is formally filed, Netanyahu is entitled to defend himself in a hearing, a process which is expected to begin in the coming months. Allies of Netanyahu have argued that if he were to be charged, he would not be required to resign as prime minister, though this would likely be challenged in court.

Netanyahu has fervently denied any wrongdoing and claimed the corruption accusations were being pushed by the Israeli left, media and others in order to force him from office by non-democratic means.

Immediately following the closure of polls Tuesday at 10 p.m., Gantz declared victory as a pair of exit polls had Blue and White projected as the largest party.

As results came in overnight and indicated Likud along with its nationalist and religious allies were poised to win a majority of Knesst seats, Gantz acknowledged the “skies look gloomy” but did not explicitly back down.

Supporters of the Blue and White party react to the first voting results in the general elections, at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 09, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin said earlier Wednesday he will hold talks next week with party leaders to hear their recommendations on which candidate should form the next government. Following these talks, Rivlin will task a lawmaker who is best positioned to do, with Netanyahu the clear frontrunner.

AFP contributed to this report.

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