JERUSALEM (AP) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prospects of victory in Israel’s latest elections appeared to be out of reach on Thursday, as the near-complete vote count showed that he and his right-wing allies fell short of a parliamentary majority. .
With 99.5% of the votes counted, Israel’s electoral commission showed both Netanyahu’s allies and those determined to overthrow him without a clear path to form a government. The remaining uncounted votes are unlikely to change the results.
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. But neither the pro-Netanyahu camp nor its highly fragmented opponents won 61 of the required 120 seats in parliament.
Netanyahu and his allies had 52 projected seats compared to 57 held by their opponents. In the middle are two undecided parties: Yamina, a seven-seat nationalist party headed by a former Netanyahu lieutenant, and Raam, an Arab Islamist party that won four seats.. Neither Yamina’s Naftali Bennett nor Raam’s Mansour Abbas have engaged with either side.
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 Zionist religious partyHe said Thursday that “a right-wing government will not be established with the support of Abbas. Period. Not under my watch. ”
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.
The final tally of votes was expected to be completed on Friday.