Final voting results show major setback for Israel's Netanyahu

“It is clear that Netanyahu does not have a majority to form a government under his leadership,” said Gideon Saar, one of Netanyahu’s former allies who are now opposed to him. “Action needs to be taken now to recognize the possibility of forming a government for change.”

To form a government, a candidate must work with allied partners to get a majority of 61 seats in the Knesset or parliament.

According to the final results of the Israeli electoral commission, Netanyahu and his allies have captured 52 seats, compared to 57 seats by his opponents.

In the middle were two undecided parties: Yamina, a seven-seat nationalist party led by a former Netanyahu lieutenant, and Raam, an Arab-Islamist party that won four seats.

Neither Naftali Bennett of Yamina nor Mansour Abbas of Raam have committed to either camp. Deep divisions in both the pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu blocs, however, could make it difficult for either side to get a majority in them.

“Israel is experiencing the worst political crisis in decades. It is obvious that it is very difficult for our political system to achieve a decisive result, ”said Yohanan Plesner, President of the Israel Democracy Institute. “This is due to inherent weaknesses in our electoral system, but also to the Netanyahu factor.”

Tuesday’s vote was widely viewed as a referendum on Netanyahu’s style of leadership and his ability to rule during the indictment. “The Israelis are split down the middle on this issue,” said Plesner.

Netanyahu’s followers see him as a statesman uniquely qualified to lead the country. He stood up for his management of the country successful coronavirus vaccination program and diplomatic agreements reached last year with four Arab countries.

However, his opponents say Netanyahu is not trustworthy and has botched many aspects of the coronavirus crisis. They also say he shouldn’t be ruling the country at a time when he’s on trial several corruption allegations. The evidence phase, in which a number of former aides are supposed to take a stand against him, is due to begin on April 5th.

Thursday’s results set the stage for weeks of uncertainty as the country’s figurehead, Reuven Rivlin, consults with party leaders whether they can agree on a candidate who can cobble together a new government majority.

Merav Michaeli, whose center-left Labor party won seven seats, declared the victory for the anti-Netanyahu camp. “Now is the time to form a government,” she told Channel 13 TV.

It may not be that easy. The anti-Netanyahu camp includes a wide variety of parties, ranging from left-wing Arab factions to stubborn nationalists who resist working with them.

One option circulated on Thursday was the ability to pass, by a narrow parliamentary majority, laws that would exclude an accused politician from forming a new government, a measure aimed at excluding Netanyahu from office. Several parties said they leaned in that direction.

Netanyahu is being tried on three counts of fraud, breach of trust and taking bribes. He has denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the charge as a witch hunt by biased law enforcement agencies and media. His opponents accuse him of leading the country to repeated elections in the hopes of winning a parliament that would grant him immunity from prosecution.

Dani Dayan, a member of the Saar New Hope Party, said he was not enthusiastic about the prosecution of a “personalized” law but said it was worth considering.

“Netanyahu has made such a mix of his lawsuit and the needs of the state. So there is room for debate on this issue, ”he said.

Netanyahu’s Likud party made an angry statement comparing its opponents to the spiritual leadership in Iran that is scrutinizing candidates for office. “The ‘change bloc’ is just a nice way of saying an ‘anti-democratic bloc’,” said Likud.

Despite the charges brought against him, Netanyahu’s Likud party received around a quarter of the vote, making it the largest party in parliament. A total of 13 parties received enough votes to enter the Knesset – most since the 2003 elections – and left parliament amid a multitude of medium-sized parties representing ultra-Orthodox Jewish, Arab, secular, nationalist and liberal factions.

For Netanyahu to gain a majority, he will likely need to involve both Bennett, who heads a party popular with die-hard Jewish nationalists, and Abbas, whose party is inspired by the regional Muslim Brotherhood movement. Bennett has ruled out an alliance with Abbas.

In yet another blow to Netanyahu, Bezalel Smotrich, an ally of the prime minister and head of the far-right religious Zionism party, said Thursday: “No right-wing government will be formed with Abbas’ support. Period. Not on my watch. “

Netanyahu will also try to look for individual lawmakers across the aisle to “defect” and join it.

Given the hostility towards the Prime Minister, this looks like a longshot for now.

Bennett, Saar and Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the secular nationalist party Yisrael Beitenu, are ex-Netanyahu confidants who have messed up with the prime minister.

Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, signed a power-sharing agreement with Netanyahu last year, only to see it quickly dissolve in non-stop fighting.

Netanyahu’s opponents will also look into various possible combinations that could secure the required majority of 61 seats. This could include luring Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies and even disgruntled Likud members.

The incredible possibilities mean that weeks of uncertainty are most likely ahead and the chance for an unprecedented fifth straight election if no alternative coalition can be found.

Late Thursday, Yair Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid party finished second with 17 seats, announced that he had met with Michaelmas and “discussed options to work together to build a coalition for change.”

They agreed to meet again and continue discussions.

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