Polar opposites: Gantz wins Netanyahu's hometown, Netanyahu wins Gantz's

Posted April 12, 2019

Netanyahu kept his close ties with Trump in the public eye, erecting billboards in big cities showing the two smiling leaders shaking hands.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, April 29, 2018.

Mr Netanyahu's Likud party was expected to win a similar number of seats as ex-military chief Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White alliance, with early results suggesting they both had won 35.

"I'd like to congratulate" Netanyahu, said Trump, after almost complete results put the incumbent premier in position to form a coalition and extend his long tenure.

His close ally President Donald Trump, who has swung US policy sharply in Israel's favour and openly backed Netanyahu, said the prime minister's victory gives the White House's long-awaited peace plan a "better chance".

The veteran politician said the exit polls suggested a "fantastic achievement, an enormous achievement, which is nearly unfathomable", and praised his supporters for their success despite a "biased media". In any case, the country now faces what could be weeks of political negotiations over the composition of a ruling coalition. "This is a night of an incredible, incredible victory". Netanyahu faced further criticism on election day when members of his Likud party brought small cameras into polling stations in Arab areas.

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Worse still, he aligned with some of the most racist factions in Israeli society to achieve the seats he needed to form a coalition.

He declined to comment on Netanyahu's possible re-election to a fifth term but said the German government "will work closely, cordially and faithfully with the new Israeli government". "I was very moved that the nation of Israel once again entrusted me for the fifth time, and with an even greater trust".

Netanyahu tweeted that Trump had called him from Air Force One.

But the former army chief's subdued tone differed starkly from his victory speech late Tuesday, when exit polls showed the rivals in a dead heat.

Unlike the Israelis they hardly have any say over their own future, and when it comes to many Arab states, they can not really count on any real support.

It's the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank who will suffer most from this vote.

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Pompeo repeatedly declined to weigh in on Netanyahu's election-eve vow to annex Jewish settlements built in the Israeli-occupied West Bank - a move that would seek to formalize Israeli control over parts of the supposedly future Palestinian state.

The telegenic Gantz, who has been vague on key policy fronts, has presented himself as a clean, scandal-free alternative to Netanyahu.

Second, the election confirms that the Trump administration will give both unstintingly and enthusiastically to the Israeli right.

Pollsters on Tuesday said that Arab turnout in the election was dramatically reduced and was potentially at a historic low.

In order to appeal to his religious and ultranationalist parties, Netanyahu veered sharply right on the campaign trail with attacks on Arab politicians, the media and the judiciary. Gantz, a career soldier who retired as chief of staff in 2015, entered politics previous year for the first time, joining forces with two other former army chiefs.

The last round of US -brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014.

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