First Published: 2013-01-23

 

Netanyahu suffers setback as centrists surprise Israel

 

Centrist Yesh Atid becomes Israel's second strongest party, just one year after it was created by former journalist Yair Lapid.

 

Middle East Online

By Sara Hussein – JERUSALEM

Quick political rise of former journalist

Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday emerged from hard-fought elections weakened but still best placed to form a new government and likely to reach out to centrist parties strengthened by the vote.

In results that defied expectations, the centrist Yesh Atid became Israel's second strongest party, just a year after it was created by former journalist Yair Lapid, who has overnight become the country's newest political star.

And the strong results for centrist parties left the Knesset's 120 seats equally divided by the country's rightwing and centre-left blocs.

Though the split means the centre-left could seek to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government, his strong showing leaves him well-placed to form a broad-based coalition, analysts said.

But the result will be a blow for Netanyahu, who had sought a bulletproof rightwing majority that would give him freedom to maneouvre on key foreign policy issues including Iran's nuclear programme and peace with the Palestinians.

By 0600 GMT, with 99.5 percent of the votes counted, Israel's electoral committee said the list grouping Netanyahu's rightwing Likud and the secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu faction had won 31 seats.

The national religious Jewish Home won 11 seats, as did the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Shas. The Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction won seven seats, bringing the bloc's total to 60.

On the centre-left side, Yesh Atid came away with 19 seats, slightly ahead of the centre-left Labour party, which won 15.

The HaTnuah faction of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni carried six seats, as did the leftwing Meretz, while Livni's onetime party Kadima won just two.

Combined, the three Arab Israeli parties that crossed the electoral threshold to make a showing in the parliament, won 12 seats, giving the centre-left 60 seats as well.

The almost-final figures mirrored the exit polls that were released on Tuesday night after polls closed at 2000 GMT and prompted the 15 or so activists at Yesh Atid's small Tel Aviv campaign headquarters to explode into cries of victory.

"We're going to change things; we're going to change things," they sang, using the party slogan and chanting "Yesh Atid" -- Hebrew for "There is a future."

As the Tuesday night exit polls projected his list on top, Netanyahu thanked voters, and said in a victory speech that he needed to form the "broadest possible coalition".

He addressed Lapid, telling him: "We have an opportunity to do great things for Israel. The election campaign is behind us, and we can now focus on action for the benefit of all of Israel."

Surrounded by ecstatic supporters, some of them in tears, Lapid also pledged to seek a broad government.

"I call on political leaders to work with me, together, to form the widest possible government which will include moderate elements from the left and the right to bring about real change," he said.

Netanyahu said his new government's top priority would be to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but he also faces the longstanding issue of peace with the Palestinians, and a Middle East profoundly changed by the Arab uprisings.

Domestic challenges will be no less pressing, with a larger-than-forecast deficit paving the way for an austerity budget that could now be opposed by centrist parties which campaigned on improving life for Israel's middle class.

Final figures put turnout at 66.6 percent, slightly higher than the 65.2 percent in the 2009 elections. Final election results are not expected until later in the week, after overseas and military votes have been counted.

And the process of forming a coalition of at least 61 members of parliament is expected to take around two weeks, with Netanyahu forced to tread delicately in a bid to win over support from the strongest factions of the centre-left bloc.

Analysts said Lapid, a popular former news anchor and the son of a former politician, had succeeded by running a low-profile campaign focused on economic issues and secular values without alienating the country's religious class.

He has called for drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the army, insisting on a "sharing of the burden" and pledged to protect Israel's middle class, tapping into economic discontent that drove record protests against the cost of living in 2011.

 

Saudi delegation in Israel to promote stalled peace initiative

Air raids jeopardise much-needed medical care in Aleppo

Libya loyalists seize ISIS bomb factory in Sirte

Tunisia dissident, Mohsen Marzouk, opens new party congress

Iran destroys 100,000 ‘morally damaging’ satellite dishes

ISIS suicide bomber kills at least 15 in northern Baghdad

Turkey readies first cross-party rally to condemn coup

At least 61 people dead as ISIS claims twin blasts in Kabul

Iraq PM seeks to speed up death penalty implementation

Munich shooting had 'obvious link' to Breivik, not ISIS

EgyptAir flight broke up in midair after fire, evidence suggests

Palestinian village could soon cease to exist

Coalition warplanes strike Qaeda positions in southern Yemen

Turkey extends police powers, shutters over 1,000 private schools

Libya ‘NATO revolutionaries’ urge fight against French troops

Germany probes motives of 'lone' Munich mass killer

Russian warplanes targeted US, British outpost in Syria

Syrians harness Pokemon frenzy to depict their plight

Bodies of 14 'executed' people found in Libya's Benghazi

UN to help Turkey bolster tourism sector

France to supply weapons to Iraqi army

Turkey tensions fester in Germany

Israel official on first visit to Chad in 40 years

EU condemns 'unacceptable' Turkey purges

Iran stops 'terrorist infiltration' from Turkey

Moscow restarts air travel to Turkey

Assad says Erdogan is 'implementing his own extremist agenda'

Egypt's Sisi says 'serious efforts' made in Palestine peace process

43 civilians dead as regime bombards rebel-held areas in Syria

UN pleads for weekly 48-hour truce in Syria's Aleppo

Kuwait upholds death for Iran spy cell 'mastermind'

Iran arrests 40 over 'terrorist' plots

US-backed forces give IS '48 hours' to leave Syria's Manbij

Syria activists urge protests over deadly coalition raids

Kuwait issues ultimatum to Yemen negotiators

Turkey coup plotters go on trial in Greece

Mali renews state of emergency after deadly attack

Turkish President declares 3-month state of emergency

Libya unity govt blasts French military presence

Erdogan critics fear what may come next

ISIS bomb kills 4 in Yemen's Aden

Outrage after Syrian rebel group beheads child

Israel parliament passes law allowing expulsion of Palestinian MPs

Europol warns 'Lone wolf' terror attacks hard to track

Turkey blocks WikiLeaks email dump on ruling party