Netanyahu: It's my government or a dangerous government
Liberman presses Rivlin to call for unity, saying president 'must take a far more active role in forming the coalition' and urging him to summon Netanyahu and Gantz; PM convenes right-wing parties in Jerusalem, winning their pledge to back him as prime minister, thwart Gantz coalition bid
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel had two choices in the wake of the elections a day earlier - his continued leadership or a "dangerous" government that would apparently be headed by former IDF chief Benny Gantz.
"Having established a right-wing bloc, there are only two options," he said, "either a government led by me, or a dangerous government that relies on the Arab parties."
Gantz, the head of the centrist Blue and White party, reached out to the Joint List of Arab parties after Tuesday's vote. The election results, while not yet final, show a close race between Likud and Blue and White with neither the center-left party nor its right-wing rival winning enough seats to form a coaliton outright.
"At this time, more than ever, and especially in the face of the enormous security and political challenges at hand, a government that relies on the anti-Zionist parties must not be established," Netanyahu said at a meeting of his Likud faction.
Earlier Wednesday, the heads of the right-wing parties gathered at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, and pledged to recommend Netanyahu as the person who should form the next government. With this support, he has the backing of 55 Knesset members to form the next government, at least six lawmakers short of the majority he needs.
The party leaders also agreed to create a joint negotiating team for all the right-wing parties in order to create an obstructive bloc for Gantz, whose party appeared Wednesday to be inching ahead of Likud as the election results came in.
Meanwhile, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday increased pressure on President Reuven Rivlin to push for a unity government between Likud and Blue and White.
With both blocs unable to form an outright majority, the balance of power appears to be in the hands of Liberman and his party's projected nine seats.
Political figures in Israel believe Rivlin will not urge Netanyahu or Gantz to form a unity government until he has consulted with the various factions.
The results from Tuesday's elections, while not yet final, show a close race between Likud and Blue and White with neither the center-left nor the right-wing winning enough seats to form a coaliton outright. The balance of power appears to be in Liberman's hands.
"The key now rests in the hands of the president," Liberman said Wednesday. "He must take a far more active role in forming the coalition. I think he should summon Prime Minister Netanyahu and MK Ganz for a meeting this week, from which will come a message of unity."
"Last night, after the exit polls were released, I heard all kinds of commentators and experts presenting all sorts of scenarios and trying to form imaginary coalitions," Liberman wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday.
"In order not to waste your time, I want to make it clear: Yisrael Beytenu, as we said throughout the election campaign, will only join a broad, liberal national unity government that consists of three parties - Yisrael Beytenu, Likud, and Blue and White. If Gantz and Netanyahu do not declare this is their intention, if they should not try to call me at all. There is no other option for us."
Liberman added: "In order to take another option off the table for these coalition builders, I will emphasize: We will not sit in any government with the Joint List or with the Arab parties, together or alone, not in this universe nor in a parallel one. I say sharply and clearly to Netanyahu and Gantz: Don't waste your time on fruitless efforts to litigate or pile on the pressure."
The president's office said earlier Wednesday that Rivlin's official response Tuesday night was still valid: "The president of the country will convene the factions for a round of consultations after receiving the most accurate assessment of the situation and as soon as possible.
"The president will do so in full coordination with the chairman of the Central Elections Commission and after hearing all the factions' positions and taking into account all the relevant considerations.
"The president is aware of the need to form a government in Israel as quickly as possible and fulfill the will of the people as expressed in the election results, alongside the need to avoid a third round of elections.
Accordingly, the president will bestow a mandate to form a government after consultations and discussions with the relevant factions and party leaders."
Lieberman said Tuesday night that his party stood by its repeated calls for a unity government.
"The state needs a broad government and not a government that fights for survival from week to week," he said. "No proposals or enticements, no rotations and no budgets will help.
"Because this is an emergency situation, we will probably have to take unconventional steps. If I could, I would already recommend tonight that the president of the state, who is becoming a key figure, does not wait even for the official results but officially summons them on Friday."
He added: "We have always said that a unity government is possible only in emergencies and I tell every citizen who is currently watching us on TV - the situation, both security and economic, is far more of an emergency than you might think, and I do not want to scare or depress anyone.
"The state needs a broad government. A unity government without us is also better than incessant coalition negotiations. We would love to be part of such a government, but one without us is better than any variation on a narrow government," he said.
Itamar Eichner and Yael Friedson contributed to this report