As exit polls show neither center-left nor right-wing bloc able to muster majority, Likud leader refrains from making victory or concession speech, and lists his achievements of past decade as PM
Ynet, Agencies – www.ynetnews.com
After an apparent election setback, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said early Wednesday that he would seek the formation of a new “Zionist” government that excludes Arab parties.
Netanyahu addressed a small crowd of supporters at the Exhibition Grounds in Tel Aviv at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, more than five hours after voting ended. He was greeted with cries of “Bibi, King of Israel,” and “We do not want unity,” a reference to calls for a broad coalition government due to the expected close outcome of the elections.
Israel’s longest-serving prime minister made no victory claim or concession of defeat in his speech after exit polls showed no clear winner in an race that was too close to call.
Initial exit polls placed challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party just ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud, hurting Netanyahu’s chances of remaining as prime minister.
Netanyahu said he would await official results and said he would work toward establishing “a strong Zionist government” that would reflect the views of “many of the nation’s people.”
But he said he would not allow the formation of a new government with Arab partners.
“There will not be and there cannot be a government that leans on Arab, anti-Zionist parties,” he said, as exit polls put the Joint List of Arab parties winning as many as 15 seats in the 120-member Knesset.
Netanyahu’s campaign repeatedly questioned the loyalty of Israel’s Arab citizens and warned against a left-wing government that included Arab lawmakers.
This rhetoric caused veteran Arab MK Ahmad Tibi to quip as the results came in Tuesday that the Arab voters had indeed flocked to the polls – mocking a much criticized statement by Netanyahu in a previous election.
The prime minister also blasted the media for what he said was a “biased, one-sided” stance during election season.
But, he said, “it did not deter us, we worked together and created achievements that are unbelievable in the face of such bias.”
“One thing is clear: the State of Israel is at an historical point in time,” Netanyahu said. “We face tremendous opportunities and huge challenges, security and political challenges, most notably the existential threat from Iran, and we fight them tirelessly and fearlessly.
“In recent years, we have created security strength, economic prosperity and political prosperity that were unparalleled in the State of Israel.”
Meanwhile, Avidgor Liberman, the Yisrael Beytenu leader who emerged as kingmaker in the elections, said Tuesday that there is only “one option” for the country: a unity government between him and the two largest parties.
The exit polls showed neither Blue and White nor Likud able to form a majority coalition without the support of Libermanwhose party is predicted to get 6-8 seats.
In a speech to his supporters, Liberman said the only choice is for the two large parties to join him in a broad, secular coalition that would not be subject to the demands of ultra-Orthodox parties.