Israel polls: Final results confirm deadlock

PTI, Mar 26, 2021, 10:14 AM IST

Jerusalem: There was no clear winner in Israel’s election as final results were declared on Thursday, making the road to the government formation even bumpier for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The country’s Central Elections Committee confirmed a political deadlock, which means neither Netanyahu nor his rivals have a straightforward Knesset majority and possibly heralds the 5th vote in 2.5 years, The Times of Israel reported.

Mansour Abbas, an Arab leader in Israel seems to have emerged as the unusual ”kingmaker” whose possible support has split open differences not only in the ruling Likud party but also in its right-wing coalition.

Netanyahu’s Likud party has emerged as the largest party, with all votes counted in Israel’s unprecedented fourth election in less than two years. However, it still does not have a clear path to a 61-seat majority needed to form a coalition in the 120 member Knesset (Israeli Parliament).

The anti-Netanyahu bloc, comprising left, right and centrist factions which are boosted by some ”friends turn foes” determined to oust Israel’s longest-serving premier, is also short of a majority in a highly-divided Israeli political spectrum.

Most of the analysts predicted a Netanyahu-led coalition, based on the exit polls on Tuesday, with the support of the Yamina party led by former defence minister Naftali Bennett, who has not declared his support for anyone but his political inclination is more likely to draw him towards the prime minister led right-wing bloc.

Bennett and Netanyahu had bitterly attacked each other during the election campaign but the former did not rule out sitting in the government with the latter.

However, in a surprising twist to the tale, the Islamist United Arab List party (UAL), headed by Abbas, managed to cross the threshold belying all predictions and secured four Knesset seats, spoiling the turf for the Netanyahu camp which finds itself at 59 seats, in the best-case scenario including Bennett’s Yamina party, making Abbas’ support indispensable if the Prime Minister does not manage to split other parties opposed to him and draw the required support to form the government.

The UAL and Yamina have not yet declared their support for either bloc.

Abbas on Wednesday continued to be evasive over potential alliances, telling Channel 12 that “UAL’s approach is to not rule out anyone who does not rule us out. If a ruling party makes contact, Ra’am will hold the process appropriately and respectfully, our partners would be a ruling party and a candidate for Prime Minister, not their satellite candidate.”

He said that he has not yet been contacted by Netanyahu.

The UAL could potentially put either side over the 61-seat mark for a majority, but right-wing politicians, both in the pro-Netanyahu bloc and the anti-Netanyahu camp, have ruled out basing a coalition on the party’s support, due to what they say is an anti-Zionist stance.

Netanyahu himself has in the past ruled out sitting with the UAL in a coalition.

However, the Prime Minister is concerned that Abbas could support possible legislation being considered by his opponents that would prevent him from forming a coalition, Kan Radio reported on Thursday.

Netanyahu’s opponents are also considering the possibility of replacing Likud lawmaker Yariv Levin as Knesset speaker, shifting control over Parliament’s agenda to a lawmaker opposed to the Prime Minister.

With the speakership, lawmakers from the anti-Netanyahu bloc could pass legislation barring a candidate under criminal indictment from forming a government.

Doing so would prevent Netanyahu, who is on trial in three graft cases, from being tasked with assembling a coalition.

In the emerging situation, some of the close associates of Netanyahu have not ruled out “parliamentary cooperation” with the Islamist party in their interviews with the Kan public broadcaster on Wednesday.

The move, which is being seen by some as Netanyahu’s ploy to get a feel of the situation, however, has met with a fierce opposition from Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich on Thursday who ruled out any parliamentary cooperation with the Ra’am party, dismissing “irresponsible voices” that say a right-wing coalition could be built with the support of the Islamist party.

“There will be no right-wing government based on Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am party. Period,” Smotrich wrote on Facebook.

“The irresponsible voices of some right-wing elements in recent days who support such reliance… reflect dangerous confusion. Friends, get this out of your head. It will not come about, not on my watch,” he stressed.

Religious Zionism has bagged six seats as per the trend so far.

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