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Israeli election suspense: Even if Netanyahu beats Gantz, forming coalition would be challenging

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is yet to see if his promises of annexing more land and undermining the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, were enough to attract enough votes to continue a decade in power.

Challenging him for the premiership is another Benjamin, retired General ‘Benny’ Gantz who formed a new political bloc called Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) earlier this year.

After the voting ended on Tuesday, two out of three exit polls gave Gantz a lead over Netanyahu. Channel 12’s poll shows his party leading with 34 seats in the Knesset, while Netanyahu's Likud’s getting 33. An exit survey by Channel 13 put Blue and White at 33 seats and Likud at 31, while another put the two parties dead even.

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If the exit polling is anything to go by, whoever gets the most votes will still have a very difficult time setting up a coalition government. That requires the magic number of 61 seats in the Knesset for the bare-bones majority.

“Only time will tell whether the polls are correct, but certainly what we’re hearing at this stage is that there's been no outright winner, this was a close contest,” said RT Middle East bureau chief Paula Slier.

Israel operates on a proportional representation system, with a low threshold of 3.25 percent, which means the many smaller parties will probably tip the balance between the two major ones.

Attempts to follow the actual vote count have run into one hilarious obstacle: Google's attempt at machine-translating the Israeli Electoral Commission's page from Hebrew.

“Neither of them has won an outright majority, and more importantly, neither of them – looking at these initial exit polls – is able to form a majority coalition government.”

“So what this means essentially is that the country finds itself right now in the same position it was in six months ago,” Slier added.

The election itself is a result of a failure to form a government following the vote in April, in which Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Blue and White were tied at 35 Knesset seats each, with smaller parties dividing the remaining 50. Neither managed to attract enough smaller parties to reach 61.

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Netanyahu has already claimed endorsement by US President Donald Trump, and tried to woo voters by promising to annex the Israeli settlements in the Jordan River valley and in Hebron, the biggest Palestinian city in the West Bank. The proposal has been met with criticism from just bout everyone in the Middle East, notably Turkey and the neighboring Jordan.

Gantz has been less outspokenly hawkish, but the Palestinians remember him as the military commander who oversaw the 2012 and 2014 operations against Gaza. 

Also on rt.com Abbas says all agreements with Israel OVER if Palestinian land annexed

Domestic issues also play a major role in the political impasse. One of the main reasons the April election failed to produce a government was that former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the religious party Shas, both prospective Likud coalition members, could not overcome their differences on military service not applying to ultra-religious Jews.

Tuesday’s results look likely to position Lieberman as the “kingmaker” once again. However, he has called for a “national unity government."

“We have only one option - a national, liberal, broad government comprising Yisrael Beitenu, Likud and Blue and White,” he told a campaign rally in Jerusalem on Tuesday night, according to Reuters.

Blue and White have not ruled out such an alliance, on condition that Netanyahu himself is not a part of it.

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