Israeli exit polls show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and its allies failing to secure a governing majority, leaving the rival Blue and White party of Benny Gantz with a small lead. The results are a big letdown for Netanyahu, who called the new vote after failing to establish a government following the April elections. Once again, Avigdor Liberman, the head of the secular right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party, is refusing to join Netanyahu because of his ultra-Orthodox allies.
Why it matters: Netanyahu, who has been in power for a decade, is under investigation in several bribery cases. Staying in power and getting an immunity law passed may be his best chance at avoiding indictment.
No Trump bump: Just as in April, Netanyahu hoped that his close ties to US President Donald Trump would help convince voters that he’s the reliable statesman they need. But the American president’s weekend tweet in support of a bilateral defense treaty failed to catch fire due to objections from Israeli security officials and a lack of interest from the public.
The almost-war: Netanyahu tried to bypass his military and security chiefs to get Cabinet approval for a strong response to Gaza rocket attacks last week. Israeli media reports said security officials accused Netanyahu of seeking war in order to postpone the elections.
What's next: Netanyahu has a deal with right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties to support him for prime minister and block Gantz’s efforts to recruit them. Both men will try and probably fail to establish a coalition, leading to talks for a unity government. Gantz, however, has said he will not join a government with Netanyahu due to the bribery investigations. President Reuven Rivlin for his part announced that he will do everything he can to prevent a third election in a row.
Know more: Senior Likud leaders are sticking with Netanyahu by hook or by crook, writes Al-Monitor contributor Danny Zakin.
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