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Israeli President Isaac Herzog To Hold Talks With Political Leaders; To Award Mandate To Form Govt

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JERUSALEM, Nov 9 (PTI): Israeli President Isaac Herzog said on Wednesday that he will start consultations with the leaders of political parties elected to the Knesset and award the mandate to form a government on Sunday, hours after he received the official results of the recently held elections from the country’s top election body.

President Herzog said that he has received the official results of the elections to the 25th Knesset from Central Elections Committee Chairman Justice Yitzhak Amit and now he will proceed to fulfill the task imposed on him by the law.

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“I will finish the consultations by Friday and appoint the government on Sunday,” he said in a tweet.

Israel’s Central Election Committee last week announced the final allocation of seats for the 25th   Knesset, giving 73-year-old former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and its far-right and religious allies 64 seats in the 120-member parliament, enough for a governing majority.

The leader assigned with the mandate to form the next government will have 28 days to do so which may be extended by another 14 days, if required, and the President agrees to it.

The leaders of the right-wing religious bloc, which includes the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties along with the far-right Religious Zionism party, have already said that they would be recommending Netanyahu’s name for Premiership.

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Amid earlier reports that he will try to convince leaders of the parties in the Centre and the Left to join the next government under Netanyahu to form a Unity government and prevent a completely right-wing alliance, Herzog denied the reports asking not to drag his name into this controversy.

“I wish to touch on the attempt to drag me into the political struggles over the formation of the government and to emphasise: the election results are clear, and we must all respect them. It is no secret that I have always believed, and still believe, in unity; but contrary to reports, I have not worked, nor am I working, to push for the establishment of any particular government, and I am not involved in its composition or size,” Herzog said on Wednesday.

“I leave that task to the political system, and to it alone,” he emphasised.

Herzog did call upon everyone to show “collective responsibility” and maintain “cohesion” after the hard fought elections – the fifth in less than four years.

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“I wish to address the citizens of Israel from here and to say: now, the ‘day after,’ with the receipt of the final results, at the end of the campaigns, and a moment before the Knesset is sworn in and a government formed, it is time for collective responsibility,” he said.

“Responsibility to look out for each other, responsibility to conduct a respectful dialogue, responsibility for cohesion. It is important for me to emphasise: there is tremendous value to disagreement. But we must know how to manage disagreement, in a spirit of attentiveness, inclusion, partnership, and respect,” he added.

“Aggressive disagreement is destructive disagreement. Disagreement that eliminates others, denies their legitimacy, and labels them as enemies is a form of disagreement that pulls the rug out from under our feet and makes us forget the eternal truth, the eternal Israeli partnership,” he said.

Earlier, the Central Election Committee said that they had approved the results of the election, bringing an official end to the election process.

The committee thanked the Israeli people for “coming out to vote for the fifth time in a period of just four years, thus expressing confidence in Israeli democracy, the election process in the State of Israel and the Central Election Committee.”

On Thursday last, Prime Minister Yair Lapid called Netanyahu to congratulate him on winning the elections. Lapid said that he has instructed all departments of the Prime Minister’s Office to prepare for an orderly transfer of power.

The outcome of the election also ends an unprecedented period of political deadlock that began in 2019, when Netanyahu was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which he denies.

Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party won 32 seats in the Knesset while outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid got 24 seats.

The biggest surprise of the polls after the final count was over is the far-right Religious Zionism party which won 14 seats becoming the third largest party.

Netanyahu’s other likely coalition partners, Shas and United Torah Judaism won 11 and seven seats, respectively bringing the bloc’s total count to 64.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz’s National Unity won 12 seats, and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman got six seats, one more following the counting of the double-envelope votes. The so-called double-envelope ballots are cast by members of the security forces, prisoners, people with disabilities, diplomats serving abroad.

Arab-majority parties Hadash-Ta’al and United Arab List each got five seats but the breakaway Balad party failed to cross the threshold of 3.25 per cent required for a Knesset entry.

Labour, once a ruling party in Israel, got just over the 3.25 per cent electoral threshold winning four seats.

The Left-wing party, Meretz, was just a few thousand votes short of making it into the next Knesset, ending a three-decade-long era of political representation for it since its formulation in 1992.

Netanyahu has told his supporters that he would set up a government that would “look after all the citizens of Israel, without exception, because the state is all of ours”.

“We’ll restore security, we’ll cut the cost of living, we’ll widen the circle of peace even further, we’ll restore Israel as a rising power among the nations.”

For the first time in Israel’s history, the government is likely to be made up primarily of religious parties, with 33 seats in the projected 64-strong coalition going to the Religious Zionism Party, Shas and United Torah Judaism.

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