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After second national elections in a year, still no clear winner in Israel

After heading to the polls for the second time in half a year, Israelis are left in almost the same quandary as last time: The vote was more or less split down the middle and any leader given the nod to form a coalition will face many challenges in doing so. In April’s election Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party both garnered 35 votes. Netanyahu, who had a better chance at rallying a majority of seats for a coalition in the 120-seat Knesset, was given the nod to form a government. He failed to do so which is why the country went back to the polls so soon. This time Netanyahu and Gantz again are more or less tied as ballots are still being counted, and the hope of forming a government are just as dubious as before. With 95 percent of the votes counted, the unofficial results have Blue and White at 33 and Likud at 32. And just as last time, Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the secular right-wing party Yisrael Beitenu, has emerged yet again as the “king maker.” His party only earned nine or eight mandates, he will be the swing vote that pushes either of the other parties toward a majority government. Another surprise from this election was the unprecedented showing of the Arab parties which combined into one list before the election and earned the third highest number of votes with 12 mandates.  Lieberman has vowed he will not join a coalition with any religious parties, for example Shas (nine mandates) and United Torah Judaism (eight) for several reasons including their disagreement on whether Haredi Jews should serve in the army. He has also said he would not be a part of a government with the Arab parties because of their fundamental disagreements over the State of Israel and Palestinian sovereignty. The vote is largely a reflection of Israel’s Bibi fatigue. After 10 years as prime minister, Israelis appear to be tired of – or at least far less enthusiastic about – Netanyahu’s leadership and are seeking a change. Many of the votes for Blue and White were a vote against Netanyahu than for the party itself.  All eyes are now on President Rueben Rivlin to choose the candidate – Netanyahu or Gantz – who is more likely to form a government. Many Israelis are calling for a “unity government” which would combine Netanyahu’s Likud with Gantz’s Blue and White. First and foremost among them is Lieberman. The Russian-born politician insisted that a unity government comprised of his party, Blue and White and Likud, was the “only option.” However both Netanyahu and Gantz have said in the past said they wouldn’t serve together or cede the position of prime minister to the other.  It does appear though that if they don’t pursue a unity government, neither will succeed in forming a government and Israelis could be heading to the polls in a couple months yet again.

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