Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seeing his chances of an outright election victory slip away as final votes were counted, asked his chief rival on Thursday to come negotiate a possible power-sharing agreement, The Washington Post reported.
However, Benny Gantz, head of the center-left Blue and White party, ignored the invitation for coalition talks. Buoyed by results that showed his party extending its lead in Tuesday’s election, Gantz said he was open to forming a unity government as long he was at the top of it.
“We will listen carefully to anyone, but we will not surrender to any dictates,” said Gantz, a former army chief of staff, in his first public address since election night. He said he remained committed to pursuing “a broad and liberal coalition headed by myself.”
Netanyahu expressed dismay. “I was surprised and disappointed that at this time Benny Gantz still refuses to respond to my call to meet,” he said in a tweet.
It wasn’t the only time Netanyahu extended a hand to Gantz on Thursday and failed to get a warm response, according to the Post. When the two encountered each other at a memorial service for the late prime minister Shimon Peres, Netanyahu leaned in for a handshake, leaving Gantz looking bemused and impatient.
In his public remarks, Gantz has assumed the mantle of confident victor, emphasizing that his party had won the election. With 97 percent of the vote counted, Blue and White had secured 33 seats in the parliament, or Knesset, and Netanyahu’s Likud had 31. Both parties remain far short of the 61 seats required for a governing coalition.