(from left) Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and  Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(from left) Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Image source: Ben/Twitter

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 95 per cent of votes counted Thursday, Gantz's Blue and White party stood at 33 seats in Israel's 120-seat Parliament. Netanyahu's Likud stood at 32 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 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," he said. "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, the 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, 69, 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. A columnist in daily Ha'aretz has raised the question if Israel would be pushed towards a third round of polls. The right-left distinction has never been so rigid in Israel.

The country 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. Then what has changed so much that the religious Right and the Left parties suddenly are reluctant to join hands.

Netanyahu to a great extent has been responsible for creating this divide and is now having to pay for it. While dealing with his own personal issues emanating from alleged charges of corruption against him, he went on a spree branding everybody who was opposed to him as a Leftist as if it was a stigma being on the "Left", the columnist wrote.

By Harinder Mishra

Free Press Journal

www.freepressjournal.in