The Wall Street Journal - 14.09.2019 - 15.09.2019

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gambit analysts said was
meant to intimidate Arab vot-
ers who Mr. Netanyahu be-
lieves will harm his chances of
winning more seats.
Facebook suspended a chat-
bot on Mr. Netanyahu’s official
page for violating its hate
speech policy. The bot distrib-
uted a message to followers
saying Arabs “want to destroy
us all.” The post was deleted
by Likud, which said it was
published by a staffer without
Mr. Netanyahu’s knowledge.
Mr. Netanyahu made a last-
minute visit to Russia to meet
President Vladimir Putin on
Thursday to discuss Israel’s
military campaign to dislodge
Iran from Syria and elsewhere
in the region.
He has also promised to an-
nex the Jordan Valley, bring-
ing Jewish settlements in an
area bordering Jordan fully
under Israeli law.
The Blue and White party
began running ads this week
pledging that they would form
a secular unity government.
Mr. Netanyahu’s most recent
governments have relied on
support from political parties
catering to the country’s
growing ultraorthodox popula-
tions, giving them broad influ-
ence over marriage and Jew-
ish conversion rules.

Lieberman’s party gets seven
seats in that poll.
The road to 61 seats for
both Messrs. Netanyahu and
Gantz would require the sup-
port of at least some parties
that currently refuse to back
them. That could be difficult,
as Mr. Netanyahu found out in
May after he ostensibly won
the last election but couldn’t
form a governing coalition.
Mr. Netanyahu has waged a
furious campaign ahead of a
vote that could spell the end
of his reign as Israel’s longest-
serving prime minister. He has
been weighed down by corrup-
tion allegations that could go

to trial during his next term
and accusations that he has
been soft on Hamas, the terror
group that runs Gaza. He has
denied wrongdoing.
“After this election, we’re
going to see Netanyahu’s exit
package—either he’s going in a
golden parachute, where we
know the date, or he’s going to
be thrown off the plane,” said
Mitchell Barak, a political ana-
lyst and director at Keevoon
Global Research, a Jerusalem-
based consulting firm.
Mr. Netanyahu tried to pass
legislation this week that
would allow voters to be
filmed at polling stations, a

Deadlock
ThefinalpollsbeforeIsrael'selectionTuesdayshowthatneither
BenjaminNetanyahu'sright-wingblocnorhismainopponentwill
getenoughvotestoformaclearmajority.

Source: Smith Consulting poll of 603 people, conducted Sept. 11-12; margin of error: +/-4pct. pts.

Note: 61 seats is a majority in the Knesset

0 30 60

Right-religious

Center-Left-Arab

Backinga
unitygovernment

57seats

54

9

TEL AVIV—Israel’s Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
is locked in a close election
contest with his main rival,
former Gen. Benny Gantz, with
final polls ahead of Tuesday’s
vote suggesting neither has a
clear path to forming a gov-
ernment.
The polls indicate that the
winner might not be immedi-
ately clear, given Israel’s com-
plicated electoral system and
polarized politics.
The party with the most
votes is likely to get the first
chance at forming a 61-seat
majority in Israel’s parliament,
but Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud
party and Mr. Gantz’s Blue and
White and their allies in
smaller parties appear to be
falling short.
They will probably need the
help of Avigdor Lieberman, a
right-wing former defense
minister who has demanded
that Likud and Blue and White
join forces in a secular unity
government that excludes the
country’s ultrareligious par-
ties. Mr. Lieberman is a former
ally of Mr. Netanyahu, but has
become a fierce critic of the
prime minister’s alliances with
religious parties.
In a poll published by news-
paper Maariv on Friday, the
last day for surveys under Is-
raeli law, Likud would get 33
seats and Blue and White 32.
Overall, Mr. Netanyahu’s bloc
of right-wing and religious
parties would get 57 seats and
Mr. Gantz’s bloc of centrist,
left-wing and Arab parties
would get 54. However, the
Arab parties likely wouldn’t sit
in a future Gantz-led govern-
ment.
With nine seats in the
Maariv poll, Mr. Lieberman’s
party, Yisrael Beiteinu, would
play kingmaker. Mr. Lieberman
has said he would back which-
ever party gets more votes.
A separate poll by Israel’s
public broadcaster found Blue
and White would get 33 seats,
while Likud would get 31.
However, Mr. Netanyahu’s
right-wing bloc would get 59
seats overall and Mr. Gantz’s
bloc would reach only 54. Mr.

BYFELICIASCHWARTZ

Israeli Leader Faces Tight Election


Polls suggest both Benny Gantz, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu would struggle to form a government.

FROM LEFT: ATEF SAFADI/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK; ABIR SULTAN/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Inside the Hotel du Palais
during last month’s Group of
Seven summit in France, Presi-
dent Trump awaited a meeting
with Egyptian President Abdel
Fattah Al Sisi.
“Where’s my favorite dicta-

tor?” Mr. Trump called out in
a voice loud enough to be
heard by the small gathering
of American and Egyptian offi-
cials. Several people who were
in the room at the time said
they heard the question.
The witnesses said they be-
lieved the president made the
comment jokingly, but said his
question was met by a
stunned silence.
It couldn’t be determined
whether Mr. Sisi was present
or heard the remark.
The White House declined
to comment. Egyptian officials
couldn’t be reached to com-
ment.
Even if lighthearted, Mr.
Trump’s quip drew attention
to an uncomfortable facet of
the U.S.-Egypt relationship.
Mr. Sisi has drawn criticism
for his authoritarian rule since
taking power following a 2013
coup. Under Mr. Sisi, Egyptian
authorities have been accused
of detaining thousands of po-
litical opponents, of torturing
and killing prisoners and of

By Nancy A. Youssef ,
Vivian Salama
and Michael C. Bender

stymieing political opposition,
according to reports by the
United Nations, U.S. State De-
partment and nongovernmen-
tal groups.
The White House hasn’t
publicly admonished the Egyp-
tian government for its hu-
man-rights record. Egypt has
defended its actions, saying it
is fighting extremists.
At this year’s G-7 summit,
at least 10 U.S. and three
Egyptian officials were await-
ing Mr. Sisi’s arrival on the
morning of Aug. 26 when the
president made his remark.
Among those in attendance
were Treasury Secretary Ste-
ven Mnuchin and then-na-
tional security adviser John
Bolton, who since has left the
post. Others included Larry
Kudlow, assistant to the presi-
dent for economic policy; Rob
Blair, a senior adviser to the
White House chief of staff and
an interpreter.
Egyptian officials in the
room included Minister of For-
eign Affairs Sameh Shoukry,
the witnesses said.
Within minutes of the quip,
Mr. Sisi met Mr. Trump and
reporters were allowed in. Mr.
Trump celebrated his relation-
ship with Mr. Sisi, noting that
the two leaders had begun
talking with each other soon
after Mr. Trump won the pres-
idential election in 2016.
—Jared Malsin
contributed to this article.

Trump Called for Sisi:


‘My Favorite Dictator’


President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and President Trump attending the G-
summit last month. Mr. Sisi has drawn criticism for authoritarian rule.

CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS

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