After inconclusive election, Netanyahu urges right-wing rivals to join him

Jeffrey Heller
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a speech to supporters following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's general election at his Likud party headquarters in Jerusalem

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed on Wednesday to two right-wing rivals to "come back home" and align themselves with him again to break a deadlock following Israel's inconclusive election last week.

The final tally in politically polarised Israel's fourth election in two years gave Netanyahu's conservative Likud party and kindred factions 52 seats in the 120-member parliament. A potential opposition bloc also was short of a governing majority, with 57 seats.

For the first time since Israel's founding in 1948, an Arab party, which took four seats in the legislature, has emerged as a potential kingmaker. Its leader, Mansour Abbas, has said he is open to offers that would benefit Israel's Arab minority.

In his televised speech, the first he has made since election night, Netanyahu - who stepped up his personal campaigning in Arab communities during the race - made no mention of any possible alliance with Abbas's United Arab List.

Instead, Netanyahu focused his pitch on two former right-wing allies, Naftali Bennett, who served as his defence minister and heads the far-right Yamina party, and Gideon Saar, once a leading member of Likud.

"Come back home," Netanyahu said, urging them to join him in a "stable right-wing government".

Saar heads the New Hope party, which captured six Knesset seats. After the prime minister's appeal, Saar issued a statement saying he would keep his campaign promise not to serve under Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges that he denies.

Yamina gave a non-committal response, saying only that Bennett "will continue to make every effort to form a good and stable government that will extract Israel from the chaos".

An alliance between Yamina, which won seven parliamentary seats, and a patchwork of anti-Netanyahu parties, has also been widely mooted, with Bennett serving as prime minister as a possible condition for his linchpin support.

Israel President Reuven Rivlin, tasked by law to choose a candidate to try to form a government, will begin meeting with political parties on Monday to hear their recommendations. He has said he will pick a candidate by April 7.

Although Likud emerged as the largest party after the election, with 30 parliamentary seats, Rivlin is under no obligation to tap Netanyahu.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Alex Richardson)