Netanyahu's grip on power slips after Arab parties endorse his rival for Israeli prime minister

  • Arab lawmakers on Sunday endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rival, Benny Gantz, who leads the centrist Blue and White Party, in a historic move meant to topple Netanyahu's 10-year grip on power.
  • Partial results from last week's election indicate that neither Netanyahu nor Gantz has secured an outright majority of 61 seats in its 120-seat parliament in order to secure a win.
  • It is now up to Israel's President Reuven Rivlin to consult with other party leaders to discuss which candidate has the best chances of forming the next government. After the president makes his selection, the chosen candidate has 42 days to form a coalition government through vigorous, often tense, negotiations with smaller parties.
  • Arab-led parties have not put forward a recommendation for who should lead the government since 1992, but say this decision represents a furious desire to unseat Netanyahu in a historic upset.

Arab lawmakers on Sunday endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rival, Benny Gantz, to form a government in a shock move that could see Netanyahu's decade of power finally come to an end. 

Netanyahu is the longest-serving leader in Israel's history. He has also been embroiled in several corruption scandals and may face criminal charges in the near future.

Arab-led parties have not put forward a recommendation for who should lead the government since 1992. In a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday, which was broadcast live, Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab Joint List, said his political decision was "historic."

Ahmed Tibi, a Joint List lawmaker, told Rivlin that removing Netanyahu from power required a "bold step." 

"Benny Gantz is not our cup of tea," he said. "We have criticism of him from here till tomorrow ... But we promised our constituents that we would do everything to topple Netanyahu and the default here is recommending Benny Gantz."

Odeh wrote in a New York Times op-ed that his decision to endorse Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White Party, and the former military chief of the Israel Defense Forces, was not about agreeing with Gantz's policies but rather about unseating Netanyahu in a historic upset. 

"The Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel have chosen to reject Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his politics of fear and hate, and the inequality and division he advanced for the past decade," Odeh wrote.

"This will be the most significant step toward helping create the majority needed to prevent another term for Mr. Netanyahu. And it should be the end of his political career." 

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President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, speaks while Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli's prime minister, smiles during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

(Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the White House after a meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli's prime minister, not pictured, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

(Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump (2ndR) and first lady Melania Trump meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara (L) in the Oval Office of White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Chief strategist to US President Donald Trump arrives for a joint press conference by Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House on February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC.

(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner (L) and his wife Ivanka Trump talk with Sara Netanyahu (front L) as she arrives for a joint press conference between U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli's prime minister, speaks during a news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

(Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves following meetings with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump smiles outside the West Wing of the White House as Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, not pictured, departs in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway (2nd L) listens during a joint news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the East Room of the White House February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump hosted Prime Minister Netanyahu for talks for the first time since Trump took office on January 20.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer waits for the beginning of a joint news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the East Room of the White House February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump hosted Prime Minister Netanyahu for talks for the first time since Trump took office on January 20.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, speaks with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, waves while leaving the West Wing of the White House after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture Directort Lonnie Bunch(2ndR), talks with first Lady Melania Trump and Sara Netanyahu, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as they tour the Museum along with Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton, left, on February 15, 2017, in Washington, DC.

(MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. first lady Melania Trump and Sara Netanyahu stand together during a visit to the African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

President Donald Trump addresses a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enter the White House as first lady Melania Trump and Sara Netanyahu follow in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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Though results are still being finalized, the official tally indicates that Odeh's Joint List came in as the third-largest party this election. The predominantly Arab-led parties won 13 seats in the 120 seat parliament known as the Knesset, heightening their power to determine who will ultimately lead the country. 

Read more: Israel has been plunged into political chaos after Netanyahu failed to form a government — and experts say this could be the end of the line for him

Arab Palestinian citizens  — who represent about 1/5 of the Israeli population  — had a voter turnout this election of nearly 60%, according to the Israel Democracy Institute.

Gantz's Blue and White Party has won 33 seats in the Knesset, overtaking Netanyahu's conservative Likud party which won 31 seats. 

With additional backing from other center-left, Blue and White party is projected to have 57 recommendations, overtaking Netanyahu's 55 recommendations from right-wing religious parties. Secular nationalist party Yisrael Beitenu's leader, Avigdor Liberman, emerged as a kingmaker in the April election, eventually toppling Netanyahu's coalition prospects. This time, he said he won't recommending anyone to form the next government, calling Arab parties "an enemy.

Because no party has won an outright majority of 61 seats, Israeli President Reuven now begins two days of consultations with party leaders to discuss which candidate has the best chances of forming the next government. After the president makes his selection, the chosen candidate has 42 days to form a coalition government through vigorous, often tense, negotiations with smaller parties.

Netanyahu makes a furious call for compromise 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he arrives to review an honor guard with his Ethiopian counterpart Abiy Ahmed during their meeting in Jerusalem September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen ZvulunReuters

Netanyahu angrily responded to news of the Joint List recommendation, saying in a video on Sunday that there are only two options left.

"Either there will be a minority government that rejects Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state and praises terrorists who murder our soldiers and civilians, or there will be a broad national government." 

Gantz last week called for a "good and desirable unity government," according to Haaretz, a reference to a possible joint rule between his party and Netanyahu's Likud. 

Netanyahu admitted that he would be unable to form the right-wing government he campaigned for and called to lead the country alongside Gantz. But the Blue and White leader swiftly rejected the proposal and instead called on Netanyahu's religious allies to dump their coalition agreements with Likud.

"I intend to form a broad and liberal unity government under my leadership," Gantz said at a news conference last Thursday, urging Likud to replace Netanyahu as it's head.

"If Netanyahu moves aside, we'll have a unity government."

Experts say that election results likely signal an end to Netanyahu's 13 years of power. 

Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said in a press call last week that exit polls indicated a "quite dramatic outcome."

"For the first time after a decade, there is a very high likelihood that Netanyahu is no longer going to be the prime minister of the State of Israel," he said.

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