Jerusalem: As a triumphant Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initiated the process of forming the new government, his main rival on Thursday ruled out joining it, saying that sitting in the opposition was the only "realistic option" for his party after it lost the election.
"I pledge that one day we will bring about the desired change. We worked really hard; we invested our souls and went up and down the country. The public is waiting for us to raise our heads and march on with our way," Isaac Herzog said a day after his Zionist Union's shock defeat by Netanyahu's Likud party even as he accused the premier of running an election campaign based on "racism and fear-mongering".
"It now seems that the realistic option is going to the opposition, and we proved that we know how to be a fighting opposition. We will be the substitute for a narrow right-wing government," Herzog added, speaking at a meeting with his party's new Knesset list.
The election showed that "the nation wants an extreme right-wing government. We will challenge it," Herzog told Israeli Army Radio.
He also accused Netanyahu of running "a deep intimidation campaign that played on the deepest fears of the Israeli public" based on "racism, lies and fear-mongering" and said the premier's earlier claim that foreign governments were working to oust him was a "complete lie".
Zionist Union's co-leader Tzipi Livni noted that "the path Netanyahu and his partners are laying out for the country is not our way. It's clear there are two paths and two different value systems for the country.
"One is led by Netanyahu and his natural partners, and the other is ours, of the natural partners who still exist even when faced with a path that isolates Israel, one that doesn't see the citizens of the state," she said.
In a stunning victory against all odds, 65-year-old Netanyahu yesterday won a third straight term in Israel's closely fought election following a last-minute shift on Palestinian statehood, as he was poised to become the Jewish state's longest-serving premier.
Israel's ballots are for political parties rather than individual candidates. No party has ever won a majority, but the victory goes to the party leader most suited to put together a 61-seat majority with coalition parties.
While a new government must be negotiated through the president's office, the results increase Netanyahu's ability to form a majority coalition out of the 120 seats.
Netanyahu fought an all-out battle for a record fourth term against a spirited, united opposition based on a campaign revolving around a no-compromise attitude on Palestine's statehood.
Netanyahu, who has been in power for nine years over three terms, was pitted against 54-year-old Herzog, who had promised to mend ties with the Palestinians and the world community and also deal with middle class issues such as price rise.
In a last-ditch effort to woo right-wing voters, Netanyahu ruled out a Palestinian state just a day before the election, backtracking from his own six-year-old policy.