JERUSALEM (AP) – The final election results show Israel in a political stalemate once again, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his opponents failing to reach a ruling majority.
Israel’s electoral commission says that with 100% of the votes counted, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and its natural allies have won 52 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament. An ideologically diverse variety of parties committed to overthrowing him won 57 seats.
A right-wing party won seven seats and an Arab Islamist party won four. The two are not engaged, but given the many rivalries in parliament, it is unclear whether either of them could win the required majority.
Party leaders have already started negotiations that are expected to drag on for weeks. If no one can muster a majority of at least 61 seats, then Israel will go to election for an unprecedented fifth time in just over two years.
Tuesday’s vote, Israel’s fourth parliamentary election in two years, was widely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s fitness to rule while under impeachment.
Deep divisions between the various parties will make it difficult for either party to obtain a majority.
The Arab parties have never joined a governing coalition, and for the nationalist parties, such an alliance is anathema. Bezalel Smotrich, a Netanyahu ally and leader of the far-right religious Zionist party, said Thursday that “a right-wing government with Abbas’s support will not be established. Period. Not under my watch. ”
He was referring to Mansour Abbas, the head of the United Arab List, which won four seats.
Gideon Saar, a defector from Netanyahu’s Likud who now heads a six-seat party committed to overthrowing him, said that “it is clear that Netanyahu doesn’t have a majority to form a government under his leadership. Now steps must be taken to make the possibility of forming a government for change a reality ”.
The Likud, which won the most seats of any party, responded by saying that such a bloc would be “undemocratic.” He compared Netanyahu’s opponents to the clerical leadership in Israel’s archenemy Iran, which vets candidates for high office.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Institute of Democracy, called the stalemate “Israel’s worst political crisis in decades.”
“It is clear that our political system is finding it very difficult to produce a decisive result,” said Plesner. He added that the inherent weaknesses in Israel’s electoral system are compounded by “the Netanyahu factor” – a popular prime minister struggling to stay in power while under impeachment. “The Israelis are divided in half on this issue.”
Several of Netanyahu’s opponents have begun to discuss advancing a bill to disqualify a politician accused of having the task of forming a government, a move aimed at removing the longtime prime minister from office. A similar bill was introduced after the March 2020 elections, but never passed.
Netanyahu is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and taking bribes in three cases. He has denied wrongdoing and has dismissed the charges as a witch hunt by biased police and media.
Despite the charges against him, Netanyahu’s Likud party received about a quarter of the votes, making it the largest party in parliament. A total of 13 parties received enough votes to enter the Knesset, the most since the 2003 elections, and they represent a variety of ultra-Orthodox, Arab, secular, nationalist and liberal factions.