Netanyahu to Work Quickly to Form at New Government
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Wednesday to work quickly to form a new Israeli government after his clear-cut election victory, as Isaac Herzog, the center-left opposition leader, conceded defeat, the Israeli press reports.
‘‘Our country’s everyday reality doesn’t give us the luxury for delay,’’ Netanyahu of the conservative party Likud said in a statement. ‘‘The citizens of Israel rightfully expect that we will act quickly and responsibly to establish a leadership that will work for them in areas of defense, the economy and society just as we promised in this campaign — and just like we will now set ourselves towards doing.’’
Netanyahu’s strong showing came as a surprise to many Israelis, who had gone to bed Tuesday night with exit polls inaccurately showing Likud and the opposition Zionist Union in a close tie, with about 27 seats each, though Netanyahu appeared to have the advantage in forming a coalition.
But on Wednesday morning, Israelis woke up to very different results once the majority of the votes had been counted, with Likud winning up to 30 seats and the Zionist Union 24.
An alliance of Arab parties received 14 seats, making it the third-largest bloc.
The new government will probably be made up mostly of right-wing and Orthodox parties. According to the statement, Netanyahu had already consulted overnight with the heads of the parties he expected to become coalition partners: Naftali Bennett of the pro-settlement Jewish Home; Moshe Kahlon of Kulanu, a new center-right party focused on economic issues; Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the hardline nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu; and the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.
Such a coalition would give Netanyahu a majority of 67 seats among the 120 in Parliament, with Likud commanding 30 of them, according to unofficial election results.
Herzog, the Labor Party leader, and his center-left alliance, the Zionist Union, appeared to be headed back into the opposition.
‘‘In the last few years, we have proved that we know how to be a fighting opposition,’’ Herzog said at a news conference on Wednesday.
‘‘At this moment, the only real possibility appears to be to go into the opposition,’’ he said, adding, ‘‘We will be a worthy alternative in all spheres to the narrow right-wing government that will be short lived.’’
The prospect of a right-wing government prompted a hostile response from the Palestinian leadership, which has been inflamed by Netanyahu’s provocative campaigning tactics, including a reversal of his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state and warnings about the high turnout of Israeli Arab voters.
President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had a poisonous relationship long before Netanyahu swept to victory on Tuesday night in elections watched minute by minute at the White House. But now that Netanyahu has won after aggressively campaigning against a Pal-estinian state and Obama’s nearing deal with Iran, the question is whether the president and prime minister can ever repair their relationship — and whether Obama will even try.
In a strikingly strong statement on Wednesday, the White House called Netanyahu’s late campaign rhetoric, in which he railed against Israeli Arabs because they went out to vote, an attempt to ‘‘marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens’’ that ‘‘undermines the values and Democratic ideals’’ that bind Israel and the United States together.
Netanyahu’s disavowal of his own commitment to a two-state solution, said the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, means that ‘‘the United States will re-evaluate our position’’ to how it pursues Palestinian statehood. A senior administration official said on Wednesday that Obama has not decided on what specific steps he may take.
But several administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration might allow the advancement of a United Nations Security Council resolution that enshrines a two-state solution along Arab-Israeli 1967 borders, a position that would be anathema to the Netanyahu government.
‘‘The premise of our position internationally has been to support direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians,’’ a senior White House official said Wednesday. ‘‘We are now in a reality where the Israeli government no longer supports direct negotiations. Therefore we clearly have to factor that into our decisions going forward.’’
Administration officials said that although the relationship between Israel and the United States would remain strong, it would not be managed by Obama and Netanyahu. Instead it would be left to Secretary of State John Kerry, one of Netanyahu’s only remaining friends in the administration, and to Pentagon officials who handle the close military alliance with Israel.
Those officials said it was difficult to see what could change between Obama and Netanyahu in the rest of the president’s term, given that the men were at odds on the two most important parts of the American-Israeli relationship: a deal with Iran on its nuclear program and a two-state solution in the Middle East. Obama, they said, could still have a working relationship with Netanyahu — but only up to a point.