The result of Israel’s parliamentary election on Wednesday was clouded by uncertainty, with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his sworn political enemies eager to depose him appearing to lack a definite path to forming a governing coalition.
A day after the election, which had been dominated by Netanyahu’s polarizing leadership, deadlock in the 120-seat parliament was a real possibility.
Even if Netanyahu ally-turned-critic Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party joined a Netanyahu-led coalition, Netanyahu’s Likud party and its ultra-Orthodox and far-right allies fell short of a 61-seat majority with around 87.5 percent of the vote counted by Wednesday morning. Bennett has steadfastly declined to support either side.
At the same time, on Wednesday morning, a new Arab group emerged as a possible kingmaker after the latest count suggested that it would pass the threshold to enter parliament. Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Ra’am faction, has not ruled out entering either camp.
If neither camp can form an alliance, a fifth election will be held. In that scenario, Netanyahu would be relegated to the position of caretaker prime minister, facing a corruption trial and a clash with US President Joe Biden over Iran.
On Wednesday, the final count of votes cast at daily polling stations is predicted.
Even so, given Israel’s erratic politics, a lot could change. Around 450,000 ballots cast outside of their home polling place were still being counted by the elections commission.
The preliminary results revealed that the country remains profoundly divided, with a slew of small sectarian groups ruling the legislature.
The results have indicated that Israel’s electorate is starting to move to the right, which favors West Bank settlements and rejects compromises in peace talks with the Palestinians. The strong showing of an ultranationalist anti-Arab religious group exemplified this pattern.
Netanyahu had hoped for a definitive victory after three consecutive inconclusive elections, allowing him to form a coalition with his conventional ultra-Orthodox and hard-line nationalist allies and claim immunity from corruption charges.
A subdued Netanyahu boasted of a “great success” in an early Wednesday address to supporters, but stopped short of claiming victory. Rather, he appeared to reach out to his rivals, calling for the establishment of a “strong government” to prevent a new election.
“We must not, under any conditions, drag Israel into new elections, a fifth election,” he said. “Right now, we need to form a stable government.”
Bennett may have a significant impact. He shares Netanyahu’s hard-line nationalist agenda and seems to be more likely to become Prime Minister in the future. Bennett, on the other hand, has not ruled out working with Netanyahu’s foes.
Netanyahu stressed Israel’s highly active coronavirus vaccination program during the campaign. He moved quickly to procure enough vaccinations for Israel’s 9.3 million inhabitants, and in just three months, the country’s adult population had been vaccinated to the tune of 80 percent. As a result, the government was able to open restaurants, supermarkets, and the airport in time for the election.
He also attempted to depict himself as a global statesman, citing four diplomatic agreements with Arab countries signed last year. His nearest friend, then-President Donald Trump, brokered those deals.
Netanyahu’s critics claim he botched many other facets of the pandemic, including allowing his ultra-Orthodox allies to defy lockdown rules and fuel a high infection rate for most of the year.
COVID-19 has killed over 6,000 Israelis, and the country’s economy continues to struggle with double-digit unemployment.
They also point to Netanyahu’s corruption trial, claiming that a person who is facing serious charges is unfit to lead the country. In a series of controversies, Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, breach of confidence, and taking bribes, which he dismisses as a witch hunt by an adversarial media and legal system.
In contrast to Trump’s support, the Biden administration has kept its distance. Netanyahu has barely discussed Donald Trump, with whom he has had disagreements about how to rein in Iran’s nuclear capability.
Following the declaration of the election results, all eyes will be on Reuven Rivlin, the country’s symbolic president.
He’ll have a series of meetings with party leaders before naming his prime minister-designate as the one who, in his opinion, has the best chance of forming a coalition. Weeks of horse-trading could ensue as a result of this.