Netanyahu cancels UN visit over post-poll 'political context'

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during his Likud party meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday. — AFP

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled his planned visit to the United Nations General Assembly due to the "political context" in Israel, sources in his office said on Wednesday.

Initial results from Tuesday's general election show Netanyahu's Likud party tied with the Blue and White alliance of his main challenger, former army chief Benny Gantz.

According to Israeli media, with more than 90 percent of ballots counted, Netanyahu's right-wing Likud had 31 seats, while Gantz's Blue and White took 32 places in Israel's 120-member parliament.

If the results hold, it will be a major setback for Netanyahu, who hoped to form a right-wing coalition similar to his current administration as he faces possible corruption charges in the weeks ahead.

The election was Israel's second in five months, and President Reuven Rivlin, who must appoint someone to form the next government, has stressed the "need to avoid a third".

Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career after the previous poll.

Likud and its right-wing and religious allies won a majority, but he failed to form a coalition and opted for a second election rather than risk Rivlin picking someone else to try.

Netanyahu had been due to meet US President Donald Trump on the fringes of the General Assembly next week.

Trump said on Saturday that he Netanyahu were to discuss the possibility of moving forward on a "mutual defense" treaty between the allies.

Netanyahu went further.

"I look forward to our meeting at the UN to advance a historic defense treaty between the United States and Israel," he said.

Netanyahu has in the past used speeches at the podium to accuse arch-foe Iran of working secretly to develop nuclear arms and denounce its support for militant groups against Israel. — AFP


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