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PM to skip UN Gen­eral Assem­bly

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Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s long grip on power ap­peared in jeop­ardy on Wed­nes­day af­ter elec­tions left him tied with his main chal­lenger Benny Gantz rais­ing the prospect of tough ne­go­ti­a­tions to build a unity gov­ern­ment.

JERUSALEM (AFP) — Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s long grip on power ap­peared in jeop­ardy on Wed­nes­day af­ter elec­tions left him tied with his main chal­lenger Benny Gantz rais­ing the prospect of tough ne­go­ti­a­tions to build a unity gov­ern­ment or even the end of the Is­raeli premier’s record long rule.

In a sign of the de­mand­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions to come, sources in Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice told AFP he was cancel­ing a planned trip next week to the U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly in New York due to the “po­lit­i­cal con­text” in Is­rael.

He had been due to meet his “friend” U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on the fringes of the in­ter­na­tional gath­er­ing to dis­cuss a de­fense treaty be­tween the two al­lies.

But Is­rael’s long­est-serv­ing premier is stay­ing home as he bat­tles to re­tain his grip on power.

With more than 95 per­cent of bal­lots counted, Ne­tanyahu’s right-wing Likud had 32 seats, while Gantz’s Blue and White took 33 places in Is­rael’s 120-mem­ber par­lia­ment.

Gantz’s slim lead, how­ever, gave no ob­vi­ous path for ei­ther party to form a ma­jor­ity coali­tion, rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of ne­go­ti­a­tions to­wards a unity gov­ern­ment.

“There are only two op­tions, a gov­ern­ment led by me or a dan­ger­ous gov­ern­ment de­pen­dent on the Arab par­ties,” Ne­tanyahu told a press con­fer­ence in Jerusalem on Wed­nes­day night.

“In th­ese times, more than ever, when we face enor­mous se­cu­rity and po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges, it can­not be that there will be a gov­ern­ment that de­pends on anti-Zion­ist Arab par­ties,” he said.

Through­out his cam­paign, Ne­tanyahu warned, as he has in pre­vi­ous elec­tions, that left-wing and Arab vot­ers were show­ing up in large num­bers to try to oust him.

Me­dia said the mainly Arab Joint List al­liance was set to be­come the third-largest bloc in par­lia­ment with 13 seats.

End of ‘Ne­tanyahu era’ ?

“The Ne­tanyahu era is over,” said Ahmed Tibi, one of the list’s lead­ers.

“If Gantz calls, we shall tell him our con­di­tions for sup­port­ing him.”

If the ini­tial re­sults hold, it will be a ma­jor set­back for Ne­tanyahu, who hoped to form a rightwing coali­tion sim­i­lar to his cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion as he faces the pos­si­bil­ity of a cor­rup­tion in­dict­ment in the weeks ahead.

Gantz, ad­dress­ing sup­port­ers in Tel Aviv, called for a “broad unity gov­ern­ment” but cau­tioned that he was wait­ing for fi­nal re­sults.

“We will act to form a broad unity gov­ern­ment that will ex­press the will of the peo­ple,” the for­mer armed forces chief said.

“We will be­gin ne­go­ti­a­tions and I will speak with ev­ery­one.”

Ex-de­fense min­is­ter Avig­dor Lieber­man could prove to be king­maker, with the re­ported re­sults giv­ing his sec­u­lar-na­tion­al­ist party Yis­rael Beit­enu nine seats.

He has not de­clared in fa­vor of ei­ther of the two lead­ing con­tenders.

“There is only one op­tion for us,” he has stated.

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