Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu calls on challenger Benny Gantz to form unity government

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JERUSALEM: Israel's embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday called on his main challenger Benny Gantz to form a unity government with him to avoid a third election after no clear winner emerged in the unprecedented repeat polls.

With nearly 97 percent of votes counted on Thursday, Gantz's Blue and White party stood at 33 seats in Israel's 120-seat Parliament. Netanyahu's Likud stood at 31 seats. "During the elections, I called for the establishment of a right-wing government, but, sadly, the results of the elections have shown that this is not possible," said 69-year-old Netanyahu, pointing out that the nation did not definitively side with either bloc.

"The Right cannot form a coalition and there should be as broad a unity government as possible. Therefore, there is no choice but to establish a wide unity government as wide as possible that's made up of all the officials that Israel called on," The Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyahu as saying.

Netanyahu also asked Gantz, 60, to meet with him as soon as possible to start the process. "I call on you MK Benny Gantz. Benny, it's on us to establish a wide unity government today. The nation expects us, both of us, to work together. Let's meet today. At any time, at any moment. In order to begin this process that is demanded of us at this time. We cannot and have no reason to go to a third election. I oppose it. The call of the hour is to form a broad unity government today," said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu recalled the unity government between Shimon Peres and his Likud rival Yitzhak Shamir that was created in the 1980s when the election results were similarly deadlocked. "When there was no clear outcome from the Knesset elections, Shimon chose national unity. He and Yitzhak Shamir agreed to cooperate - to navigate Israel's path to safety," the Likud leader said.

He called on Gantz to follow in Peres' footsteps so that together they could similarly navigate Israel to safety, the paper said. His statement about the Peres-Shamir cooperation was seen as a reference to a possible rotation in the Prime Minister's Office. The paper added that Peres and Shamir rotated as prime ministers from 1984 to 1988. Blue and White rejected the offer as "spin."

Meanwhile, the leaders of all the parties in the right-wing religious bloc on Thursday signed a document to recommend Netanyahu as the next prime minister and vowed to enter a coalition only as a single unit. The document was signed by Netanyahu; United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman; and Yamina MKs Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Rafi Peretz, and Bezalel Smotrich.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri gave his consent via phone and said he would sign the document soon. Netanyahu called the snap election after failing to form a governing coalition with a viable majority after April's vote.

His victory in the April 9 polls securing him a record fifth term proved temporary in the face of a logjam between potential coalition partners over a military conscription bill governing exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students.

With no clear winner, some analysts here see the chances of a coalition government coming in place quite bleak at the moment. Netanyahu, who has been premier for a total of more than 13 years, faces charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in connection with three cases.

Israel has always had a coalition government and never seen a single-party rule since its independence. The religious parties, themselves a divided lot but definitely on the Right side of the political spectrum, have always been a part of the coalition governments except one led by Ariel Sharon.

Labour party leader Amir Peretz and Democratic List leader Ehud Barak have served in governments led by Netanyahu at different times during the last ten and a half years.

(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)

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