Inconclusive second elections intensify Israel's political crisis

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As the official count filtered in on Wednesday, no side emerged with a clear path to government. Peres was prime minister until 1986, when Shamir replaced him. On Wednesday, the parties agreed to negotiate as a bloc, which amounted to 56 seats as of Wednesday night's yet-incomplete vote count.

His challenger, Blue and White's Benny Gantz, a former army chief, tried to paint Netanyahu as divisive and scandal-plagued, offering himself as a calming influence and honest alternative.

Yesterday, Lieberman reiterated his support for a "broad liberal unity government" that would include Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud, and Blue and White.

Israel's President Reuven Rivlin is expected to give his blessings and approval to a larger coalition of all parties.

Both, predictably, claimed they could.

"Benny, we must set up a broad unity government, as soon as today".

"We will not enter a coalition led by Netanyahu", Yaalon said, echoing a position Gantz had taken throughout the election campaign and appearing to suggest that an alliance with Likud would be possible if it dumped its veteran chief. In the days and weeks to come, Netanyahu will play on this even more.

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Any "national unity government", whether headed by Blue and White or Likud, would be a ferociously anti-working class government, with both parties calling for increased spending for the military, while health, education, transport and basic infrastructure deteriorate, in a society that is among the most socially unequal in the world.

There was no immediate response from Blue and White. Israelis endured a caustic campaign that saw a combative Netanyahu fighting for his political survival amid the recommendation by Israel's attorney general to indict him on charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud pending a hearing in early October.

It clearly looked like that when Netanyahu's Likud party was downbeat and he addressed half-empty chairs in the party office. For now, the party Netanyahu has molded in his image has vowed to stick with its leader.

One potential history-making outcome is the possibility that Odeh, the Arab party leader, would consider taking the unprecedented step of heading the country's formal opposition, something that has never been done by an Arab party in Israel. Whomever is given the mandate would have 28 days to form a government, with the option to ask for a short extension.

Despite the Palestinian Authority choosing not to comment on Israeli elections, PA Vice President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Aloul made joy over the "loss" of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu no secret. His insistence on a secular government would force out Netanyahu's traditional allies, the country's two ultra-Orthodox parties and another nationalist-religious party.

The Joint List has even offered to join in a Blue and White-led coalition government, but Gantz has rejected this.

Hundreds of chairs for party supporters remained empty as activists were kept outside the hall and leaders digested the numbers.

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