JERUSALEM (AP) — The head of a center-left union that came in second in Israel's election said Thursday he would not join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, accusing him of rallying voters with racist remarks on election day.
Isaac Herzog said his Zionist Union, which fell short of Netanyahu's Likud in Tuesday's vote, would sit in the opposition as a counterweight to the nationalist right-wing coalition the prime minister is poised to form.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also took aim at Netanyahu's pre-election rhetoric, saying the prime minister's reversal of his previous support for the creation of a Palestinian state was "very worrisome."
The vote, Herzog told Israeli Army Radio, showed that "the nation wants an extreme right-wing government."
"We will challenge it," he added, referring to his role in the opposition.
Netanyahu's victory was a stunning turnaround after a tight race that had threatened to end his lengthy rule. The latest tally from Tuesday's vote shows Likud won 30 seats compared to the Zionist Union's 24.
In a last-ditch attempt to mobilize supporters, Netanyahu spoke of a worldwide effort to oust him and warned that Arab citizens were voting "in droves." The comments drew accusations of racism from Israeli Arabs and a White House rebuke which called the rhetoric "deeply concerning."
"What Netanyahu did recently touched on racism," Herzog said of the prime minister's remarks. It "destroyed a deep relationship with our allies in the world. The American reaction is not at all easy."
Herzog also accused Netanyahu of running a campaign based on "lies, fear-mongering, hostility" and said the premier's earlier claim that foreign governments were working to oust him was a "complete lie."
He also warned of "a deep intimidation campaign that played on the deepest fears of the Israeli public," citing text messages sent to Israeli voters in the countdown to the election that warned of high Arab turnout.
Meanwhile, at a special meeting Thursday of the Palestinian leadership, Abbas said "we don't see a serious attempt from the Israeli government toward peace that will lead to the establishment of two states."
Palestinian officials believe they can now build a stronger case for international pressure on Israel because of Netanyahu's hard-line positions. Earlier this year, the Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court in pursuit of war crimes charges against Israel, and the Palestinians are seeking more involvement from the United Nations in their quest for statehood.
"We have the full right to approach any international party in order to gain our rights and so international legitimacy will be achieved," Abbas said.