Netanyahu meets with allies as results signal right won’t muster majority

With 90% of count predicting PM-led political bloc slightly short of 61 seats, Likud leader and party chiefs reportedly agree not to rule out including Liberman in next government

A meeting of the heads of the rightist-Haredi bloc of parties supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) on January 14, 2020. (Courtesy)
Illustrative: A meeting of the heads of the bloc of parties supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), January 14, 2020. (Courtesy)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday met with leaders of parties in his bloc of right-wing religious supporters, as discussions began on the makeup of the next government.

According to non-final results, Netanyahu appeared poised for significant gains, though questions remained over whether he has enough support to form a coalition.

Netanyahu and his allies agreed to remain in contact, according to Hebrew media reports, and not to rule out any parties that recognize Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

This appeared to keep the door open to including MK Avigdor Liberman’s secularist right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party in a potential coalition, following his fallout last year with Netanyahu amid disagreements with ultra-Orthodox parties over issues of religion and state.

However, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni told reporters after the meeting that Liberman is “irresponsible.” Asked whether he would support including the Yisrael Beytenu chief in a government, UTJ chairman Yaakov Litzman said, “Who is Liberman, anyway?”

“I’m confident we’ll get to a situation where there will be a government,” Litzman told reporters.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri projected confidence that the right-wing bloc would not need to turn to other parties to form a government once all the votes were counted.

“From the data I received now, we’re close to the 61st seat,” he said after the meeting.

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 at 59 seats, two seats short of a 61-seat majority.

Netanyahu met Shas leader Aryeh Deri on Tuesday morning for an hour and a half at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Hebrew-language media reported, to discuss the next government. At 3 p.m., Netanyahu met all the leaders of parties in his bloc — Shas, United Torah Judaism (UTJ), and Yamina, for additional consultations.

Yamina earlier held a faction meeting, in which its co-leaders expressed hope that a right-wing government could be formed that would annex parts of the West Bank.

“The election results are good for the right-wing bloc, but this isn’t over. Our mission is to make sure that right-wing policies will be taken in practice. There is a chance for a sovereignty government,” said party leader Naftali Bennett, referring to a government that would enact Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and settlements.

“If left-wing people are included, there won’t be sovereignty,” he added.

MK Ayelet Shaked said: “It is clear from the results that a right-wing government will be formed. That is the public’s overwhelming decision.”

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked attend a press conference in Ramat Gan, July 21, 2019. (Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

UTJ lawmaker Moshe Gafni told reporters that “we are probably not going to additional elections,” but vowed there would be “no unity government. There will be a [right-wing] government that could be wider or narrower.”

Without 61 seats, Netanyahu will likely seek to woo members of opposition parties to break off and join his coalition. He could also attempt to bring in the secularist Yisrael Beytenu, which looks set to once again play kingmaker. He’ll be helped by the prospect of continued deadlock and a fourth consecutive election, seen as a doomsday scenario, but one that is increasingly likely.

Party head Avigdor Liberman vowed Monday he would not joint a Likud-led government that includes ultra-Orthodox parties, but he has also refused to join a coalition with the Arab-led Joint List.

“We won’t move a millimeter from what we promised our voters,” he said.

Liberman refrained from a joining a Netanyahu-led coalition following the April and September elections. Attempts to force a unity government between Likud and Blue and White in the fall were also unsuccessful.

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