Is the reign of ‘King Bibi’ over?

Deadlock continues as main parties fail to reach consensus
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffered a major political setback on Tuesday when results of parliamentary election were out. Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister who was in power for 10 consecutive years and was hoping to win a fifth term in office, failed to win a majority in the 120-member Knesset. When almost all of the votes were counted, Mr. Netanyahu’s right-religious coalition won 55 seats, six short of majority. His Likud party’s performance was worse than the last election. The Likud won 31 seats, down from 35 in April. The Likud’s main rival, the Blue and White, led by former army chief Benny Gantz, emerged as the single largest party with 33 seats. Mr. Gantz’s centrist coalition has 44 seats. Does it mean the reign of Mr. Netanyahu, who is called “King Bibi” by his supporters, finally over? It’s too early to reach any such conclusion. Based on the results, there are different possibilities. For now, no coalition has majority. And it’s not clear who President Reuven Rivlin will call to form the government. Mr. Netanyahu hopes that he will get the first-mover advantage as his coalition has 55 seats. But Blue and White is the largest party, and if the Joint List, the Arab parties’ alliance that has won 13 seats, backs Mr. Gantz, his bloc will have 57 MPs.
The king-maker
While both main parties are in a deadlock, Avigdor Lieberman, whose right-wing secular party Yisrael Beiteinu has won eight seats, has emerged as the king-maker. Mr. Lieberman, a former ally-turned-rival of Mr. Netanyahu, is not part of any coalition. After the April election, he refused to back Mr. Netanyahu, forcing the Prime Minister to recommend the second poll. If Mr. Lieberman backs the Likud now, Mr. Netanyahu could return to power. But it looks impossible as he has ruled out any tie-up with Mr. Netanyahu’s religious allies such as the Shas and the United Torah Judaism (UTJ), which have won nine and eight seats, respectively. Mr. Lieberman wants to end orthodox Jewish parties’ influence over the government and promote secular legislation. Mr. Netanyahu, on Wednesday evening, met his allies and assured them that he won’t abandon them for a new coalition. Another possibility is of Mr. Gantz forming the government with support from the Yisrael Beiteinu and the Joint List (Arab parties). But Mr. Lieberman has said he won’t sit in a government with the Arab parties (“not in this universe and not in a parallel universe”), while Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, has said he’s looking to become the first Arab opposition leader in the Knesset. Despite their initial protestations, a Blue and White-Labour-Yisrael Beiteinu government with outside support from the Joint List can’t be ruled out.
And if no leader manages to form a coalition, there will be a third election.

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