Los Angeles Times - 04.03.2020

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complete ballot count on
Tuesday cemented Prime
Minister Benjamin Netan-
yahu’s edge in the election a
day earlier but left him
seemingly short of the par-
liamentary majority he
needs to govern.
Netanyahu, who at 70 is
Israel’s longest-serving
leader, swiftly turned his at-
tention to building a work-
ing coalition and preparing
to fight criminal corruption
charges he faces in a trial due
to begin in two weeks.
The prime minister
hopes that staying in office
will give him more tools in
his legal battle, as well as en-
able him to push ahead with
a hard-line nationalist
agenda bolstered by the
Trump administration’s
Mideast plan.
With more than 93% of
the votes counted, Netanya-
hu’s Likud Party had a solid
lead over that of his main ri-
val, the Blue and White party
led by former army chief
Benny Gantz. But the bloc
made up of Netanyahu’s
Likud and religious and
right-wing allies appeared to
have fallen two seats short of
a 61-seat majority in the par-
liament, or Knesset.
Final results were ex-
pected as soon as Wednes-
day. Among the last votes
being counted were those
cast by Israeli soldiers.
Also being counted were
about 4,000 votes cast by
people under home quaran-
tine after potential co-
ronavirus exposure. Those

doing the tallying — clad in
full protective gear, working
in a sterilized tent — in-
cluded members of Israel’s
Central Election Commit-
tee, who stepped in when
some poll workers balked at
handling the ballots.
For now, the prime min-
ister and his allies were con-
centrating on a bid to peel
away a few defectors from
opposing parties.
Despite the continuing
uncertainty as to whether he
can clinch a majority, Netan-
yahu presided over a rau-

cous celebratory rally early
“This is a victory against
all odds — we stood against
powerful forces,” he told a
cheering crowd at his party
headquarters. “They al-
ready eulogized us. Our op-
ponents said the Netanyahu
era is over.”
The prime minister as-
sured backers he would
move ahead with efforts to
annex large parts of the West
Bank, a move that Palestin-
ians say would doom their
aspirations for statehood.

Likud said the prime
minister had met with lead-
ers of religious and national-
ist parties and received
pledges of support. Likud is
still floating the idea of
teaming up with Blue and
White, a coalition that would
have a large parliamentary
majority — but Gantz has
ruled out an alliance while
Netanyahu faces criminal
The tallies could still
change, but Likud was on
track to secure 35 or 36 par-
liamentary seats to 32 for

Gantz’s Blue and White.
Overall, the prime minister’s
party and its allies looked
set to secure 59 seats, to 54
for Gantz’s center-left bloc.
Despite the discouraging
results, the 60-year-old re-
tired general has not yet con-
ceded defeat. Gantz said
Tuesday that he and his sup-
porters would await the final
count and do “everything
that the results and the law
allow” to bring about a
change of national leader-
As is often the case in Is-

rael’s political system,
smaller parties can wield
outsize influence as king-
makers. One of those is the
secular nationalist party of
ex-Defense Minister Avigdor
Lieberman, which had a ten-
tative haul of seven seats.
Lieberman hasn’t said
which bloc he’d be ready to
This was Israel’s third na-
tional election in less than a
year, and if Netanyahu can-
not patch together a work-
ing majority, the country
could be headed for an un-
precedented fourth vote.
And his legal woes could
trigger a constitutional cri-
sis, with court challenges to
his standing as he attempts
to form a government.
After a national vote, Is-
rael’s president gives one
party leader the first shot at
trying to assemble a major-
ity. Usually it’s the head of
the largest party, which in
this case is Likud.
Netanyahu has a March
17 court date to face charges
of bribe-taking, fraud and
breach of trust. He denies
any wrongdoing.
Legal challenges swiftly
emerged to try to prevent
the prime minister, as a sus-
pect in three criminal cases,
from being allowed to try to
form a government. A non-
profit group called the
Movement for Quality Gov-
ernment in Israel filed a peti-
tion to that effect with the
Supreme Court on Tuesday.
But Netanyahu has
turned the legal proceedings
against him into a rallying
cry, calling the investigation
a witch hunt and denounc-
ing investigators. At his
postelection celebration,
supporters shouted slogans
decrying the attorney gen-
eral who indicted him.

Special correspondent
Tarnopolsky reported from
Jerusalem and Times staff
writer King from

Netanyahu has lead but not majority

SUPPORTERS of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrate early returns in Tel Aviv on Monday.
“This is a victory against all odds,” he said Tuesday. Final results were expected as soon as Wednesday.

Ariel SchalitAssociated Press

Looming corruption

trial brings challenges

for Israeli premier as

he seeks to build a

governing coalition.

By Noga Tarnopolsky
and Laura King

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