Jerusalem (AP) - In the parliamentary elections in Israel, a stalemate between the conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his challenger Benny Gantz emerges.
Netanyahu's Likud, according to TV forecasts, came to 31-32 seats on Wednesday night and Gantz's center-alliance blue-white to 32 seats. Thus, neither the right nor the center-left camp has a majority of at least 61 out of 120 parliamentary seats for the formation of a government. Gantz spoke like Netanyahu's rival Avigdor Lieberman, who is considered to be the kingmaker in the election, after publishing the forecasts for the formation of a grand coalition. Netanyahu himself was sure of victory.
Early Wednesday morning he announced to followers in Tel Aviv that he wanted to start negotiations in the coming days on the formation of a "strong government". The goal is to prevent a "dangerous, anti-Zionist government". Israel is at a "historical juncture" with huge opportunities and challenges, "most notably Israel's existential threat to Iran and its offshoots." There should be no government based on "Arab, anti-Zionist parties," said the 69-year-old.
Gantz said to cheering supporters that one had to wait patiently for the final results of the election. Nonetheless, contacts will soon be made with the formation of a "broad unity government". He wants to speak in the coming days with former Defense Secretary Lieberman and other potential partners, Gantz said. His goal is to reunify Israeli society.
Lieberman's party Israel Beitenu (Our House of Israel) received eight to nine seats. He called for a "national, liberal, and broad government" on Tuesday evening. This must consist of his own party, the Likud and blue-white. A broad coalition is needed because Israel is in a state of emergency, Lieberman said.
The right-wing camp with Netanyahu's conservative Likud, Jamina's party of ex-Justice Minister Ajelet Schaked, and the rigor-religious parties were projected to have 53 to 55 seats. The extreme right-wing Ozma Yehudit (Jewish force) failed due to the 3.25 percent blocking clause.
The center-left camp with blue and white, the Labor Party, the Democratic Union and the United Arab Emirates received 56 to 59 seats. The United Arab Emirates was the third strongest party in parliament, with 11 to 15 seats.
Around 6.4 million voters were called to appoint the 120 members of the 22nd Knesset in Jerusalem. The final election result will be published one week after the election.
Lieberman had denied Netanyahu his support following an April election. Therefore, despite a majority of the right-wing religious camp, the head of government failed to re-form a government. Lieberman also demands compulsory military service for Jews who are strictly religious, while the other ultra-orthodox coalition partners reject it.
Netanyahu emphasized during the election campaign that he wanted a right-wing religious coalition. Gantz is only ready for a grand coalition without Netanyahu as head of government. As a reason, he calls the corruption allegations against the 69-year-old, who is Prime Minister since 2009. Following a hearing in October, Netanyahu faces charges in three corruption cases.
President Reuven Rivlin now has to decide whom he will commission to form a government. He calls for recommendations from all parliamentary groups for the office of Prime Minister.
Who then has the greatest opportunities for the formation of a government coalition, initially receives four weeks time. Usually the order receives the chairman of the group with the most votes. A new government is expected at the end of October at the earliest.
The turnout was higher than half a year ago and was until 21.00 clock German time, according to the Central Election Committee at 69.4 percent. This is 1.5 percentage points more than the April election at the same time. Overall, the turnout last time was around 68 percent.
Netanyahu had warned against a brief exit for his Likud party in Jerusalem. He wrote on Twitter of a high turnout in the "Strongholds of the Left". Likud supporters would have to vote immediately, "or we get a leftist government with the Arab parties". Netanyahu had also mobilized his electorate with anti-Arab sentiment in recent elections.
His challenger Gantz said in a polling station near Tel Aviv: "Today we vote for a change. We will bring hope, all together, without corruption and without extremism. "
Regardless of the election outcome in Israel, a revival of the peace process is unlikely in the foreseeable future. The left-wing parties that are in favor of establishing a Palestinian state next to Israel have no majority.