Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday began laying the groundwork for forming his next government, even as the country’s new opposition leaders-to-be slammed him for running a campaign based on fear-mongering.
Aides said Netanyahu plans to form a government of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties within a month, with hopes of adding the centrist Kulanu party headed by former communications minister Moshe Kahlon, to get a majority of 67 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
Kahlon, who champions ambitious socio-economic reforms, demands to be finance minister.
President Reuven Rivlin is to begin consultations with the heads of all the country’s various parliamentary factions on Sunday. The goal is to officially name Netanyahu as prime minister-designate by Wednesday, the date on which the Central Elections Committee (CEC) is to formally present him with the results of the country’s March 17 election.
Under Israeli law, Netanyahu will then have 28 days to form a coalition. He can ask Rivlin for a 14-day extension. But aides said that, given his strong victory, Netanyahu did not foresee the need for an extension and wanted the new government in place by Israel’s Independence Day, on April 23.
Final results published Thursday gave Netanyahu’s nationalist Likud party 30 seats, making it the biggest party in the Knesset.
The centre-left Zionist Camp list of Herzog and former justice minister Tzipi Livni won 24.
The Joint List of mostly Arab parties came in third with 13 mandates, one less than predicted in near-final results Wednesday.
Labour Party leader Isaac Herzog said Thursday he would take on the role of an aggressive opposition leader.
“We are today a very large camp and that camp will most likely sit in the opposition and challenge a narrow right-wing government that … won’t be able to give the people of Israel the solutions that it needs,” Herzog said of the left-and-centre opposition, in his first interview since Tuesday’s polls.
He said Netanyahu won by using scare tactics that attracted right-wing Israelis, sapping support from smaller, hardline factions.
“Netanyahu, in the last days in a campaign based on a lot of lies, on scares, hostility, etc, simply succeeded in tearing apart Bennett, tearing apart Eli Yishai, to take from Deri and to take from Lieberman,” Herzog told Israel Army Radio.
He was referring to several other party leaders: Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of the pro-settler Jewish Home party – which won eight seats, down from 12 in the outgoing parliament; Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the ultra-nationalist Israel Beiteinu party, whose support crumbled to six seats; and two ultra-Orthodox parties led by Aryeh Deri and Eli Yishai. Deri’s Shas party won seven seats, while Yishai’s Yahad party failed to pass the electoral threshold.
“He reinvented himself from Friday,” Herzog said, referring to a series of hardline statements made by the incumbent in the last days of the campaign, including an explicit “no” to Palestinian statehood.
“It really is a victory of hatred and fear,” added Livni.
The reversal on Palestine also elicited renewed fears in the West Bank.
“What we heard recently is very worrying,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee as it met in Ramallah to debate the Palestinian response to the Israeli election outcome.
“If this is true, it means the Israeli government is not serious about a political solution that would lead to the establishment of two states.”
“We will not backtrack … on our right to go anywhere in the world in order to achieve our rights,” he added, hinting the Palestinians may renew their bid to be accepted as a full member of the United Nations.
In other final official results: the centrist Yesh Atid and Kulanu parties won 11 and 10 seats, respectively.
The left-liberal Meretz party won five mandates, one more than predicted in the near-final results, prompting its leader, Zahava Galon, to backtrack on an earlier announcement that she would resign.
Voter turnout was 72.36 per cent, 4 percentage points higher than in the last elections, in 2013. SAPA