Netanyahu's grip on power slips after Arab parties endorse his rival for Israeli prime minister

netanyahu gantz israel election Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Benny Gantz (right).REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo, REUTERS/Corinna Kern/File Photo

  • Arab lawmakers on Sunday endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rival, Benny Gantz who leads the centrist Blue and White Party, to form a coalition government in a historic move meant to topple Netanyahu's 10-year grip on power.
  • Partial results from last week's election indicate that neither Netanyahu nor Gantz has secured an outright majority of 61 seats in its 120-seat parliament in order to secure a win.
  • It is now up to Israel's President Reuven Rivlin to consult with other party leaders to discuss which candidate has the best chances of forming the next government. After the president makes his selection, the chosen candidate has 42 days to form a coalition government through vigorous, often tense, negotiations with smaller parties.
  • Arab-led parties have not put forward a recommendation for who should lead the government since 1992, but say this decision represents a furious desire to unseat Netanyahu in a historic upset.
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Arab lawmakers on Sunday endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rival, Benny Gantz, to form a government in a shock move that could see Netanyahu's decade of power finally come to an end.

Netanyahu is the longest-serving leader in Israel's history. He has also been embroiled in several corruption scandals and may face criminal charges in the near future.

Arab-led parties have not put forward a recommendation for who should lead the government since 1992. In a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday, which was broadcast live, Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab Joint List, said his political decision was "historic."

Ahmed Tibi, a Joint List lawmaker, told Rivlin that removing Netanyahu from power required a "bold step."

"Benny Gantz is not our cup of tea," he said. "We have criticism of him from here till tomorrow ... But we promised our constituents that we would do everything to topple Netanyahu and the default here is recommending Benny Gantz."

Odeh wrote in a New York Times op-ed that his decision to endorse Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White Party, and the former military chief of the Israel Defense Forces, was not about agreeing with Gantz's policies but rather about unseating Netanyahu in a historic upset.

"The Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel have chosen to reject Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his politics of fear and hate, and the inequality and division he advanced for the past decade," Odeh wrote.

"This will be the most significant step toward helping create the majority needed to prevent another term for Mr. Netanyahu. And it should be the end of his political career."

Though results are still being finalized, the official tally indicates that Odeh's Joint List came in as the third-largest party this election. The predominantly Arab-led parties won 13 seats in the 120 seat parliament known as the Knesset, heightening their power to determine who will ultimately lead the country.

Read more: Israel has been plunged into political chaos after Netanyahu failed to form a government - and experts say this could be the end of the line for him

Arab Palestinian citizens - who represent about 1/5 of the Israeli population - had a voter turnout this election of nearly 60%, according to the Israel Democracy Institute.

Gantz's Blue and White Party has won 33 seats in the Knesset, overtaking Netanyahu's conservative Likud party which won 31 seats.

With additional backing from other center-left, Blue and White is projected to have 57 recommendations, overtaking Netanyahu's 55 recommendations from right-wing religious parties. Secular nationalist party Yisrael Beitenu's leader, Avigdor Liberman, emerged as a kingmaker in the April election, eventually toppling Netanyahu's coalition prospects. This time, he said he won't recommending anyone to form the next government, calling Arab parties "an enemy."

Because no party has won an outright majority of 61 seats, Israeli President Reuven now begins two days of consultations with party leaders to discuss which candidate has the best chances of forming the next government. After the president makes his selection, the chosen candidate has 42 days to form a coalition government through vigorous, often tense, negotiations with smaller parties.

Netanyahu makes a furious call for compromise

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he arrives to review an honor guard with his Ethiopian counterpart Abiy Ahmed during their meeting in Jerusalem September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen ZvulunIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he arrives to review an honor guard with his Ethiopian counterpart Abiy Ahmed during their meeting in JerusalemReuters

Netanyahu angrily responded to news of the Joint List recommendation, saying in a video on Sunday that there are only two options left.

"Either there will be a minority government that rejects Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state and praises terrorists who murder our soldiers and civilians, or there will be a broad national government."

Gantz last week called for a "good and desirable unity government," according to Haaretz, a reference to a possible joint rule between his party and Netanyahu's Likud.

Netanyahu admitted that he would be unable to form the right-wing government he campaigned for and called to lead the country alongside Gantz. But the Blue and White leader swiftly rejected the proposal and instead called on Netanyahu's religious allies to dump their coalition agreements with Likud.

"I intend to form a broad and liberal unity government under my leadership," Gantz said at a news conference last Thursday, urging Likud to replace Netanyahu as it's head.

"If Netanyahu moves aside, we'll have a unity government."

Experts say that election results likely signal an end to Netanyahu's 13-years of power.

Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said in a press call last week that exit polls indicated a "quite dramatic outcome."

"For the first time after a decade, there is a very high likelihood that Netanyahu is no longer going to be the prime minister of the State of Israel," he said.

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