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Gantz: We’ll respect the voters’ decision, Likud doesn’t have majority

After worse showing than in September election, Blue and White leader urges waiting for final tally, as party MKs deny weighing defection to a Likud coalition

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

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks to supporters at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on election night, March 3, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks to supporters at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on election night, March 3, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Benny Gantz on Tuesday offered his first reaction to the incomplete results of Monday’s Knesset elections, which showed his Blue and White party coming in second place to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, saying he respects the voters’ decision but adding that the final tally should be waited for.

“The election results are coming in slowly and it is clear that Netanyahu doesn’t have 61 [seats] to form a government,” Gantz told reporters outside his home in the central town of Rosh Ha’ayin.

“We will consider our path and we will respect the voters’ decision,” Gantz added.

“We are committed to the State of Israel and the society in Israel, and we will follow the developments regarding the true results,” he said. “The public should remember that we will remain committed in the future as well.”

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu appeared poised for an electoral victory Tuesday morning, though questions remained over whether he had enough support to form a coalition, as votes were counted following Monday’s national vote.

With some 90 percent of ballots tallied, Likud held 29.35% of the votes, equal to around 36 Knesset seats, which could represent the party’s strongest showing in years as Israelis looked to end a deadlock that has left the country without a fully functioning government for over a year.

Top rival Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party was trailing with 26.34% of the votes, representing some 32 seats, which would be the relatively new faction’s worst showing in three tries.

The non-final tallies gave ultra-Orthodox Shas and UTJ ten and seven seats, respectively, while religious right-wing Yamina was sitting on about six seats, placing the right-wing bloc on 59 seats, two seats short of a 61-seat majority.

In the opposition, the Arab-led Joint List was predicted to end up with around 15 seats, while the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance was getting seven. Yisrael Beytenu had enough votes for seven seats.

The numbers are likely to shift as more votes are counted.

Without 61 seats, Netanyahu will likely seek to woo members of opposition parties to break off and join his coalition, possibly from the right-wing branch of Blue and White, which includes MKs Yoaz Hendel, Zvi Hauser and Omer Yankelevich.

Hendel and Hauser both denied they had been asked to jump ship, saying in identical tweets: “They haven’t approached us. They won’t approach us. And they know why.”

Hendel is a former aide to Netanyahu, and Hauser is a former cabinet secretary who also served under the Likud leader.

Blue and White Knesset members Yoaz Hendel (L) and Zvi Hauser at the Knesset on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Yankelevich also denied “rumors” that she could defect. She tweeted: “Won’t happen!”

Haaretz reported that Likud has been threatening Yankelevich with the release of embarrassing tapes about her if she doesn’t jump ship.

The comments come after Likud spokesperson Jonatan Urich said the party has already spoken to potential recruits outside the right-wing bloc.

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, who heads the Gesher faction in the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, has also been tipped as a possibility to jump ship in return for a cabinet portfolio. She too has denied any intention to defect to the right.

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