Israel’s second election in less than six months looks unlikely to clear up its political impasse, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again falling short of a majority in parliament and forced to scramble for allies to retain power.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party is projected to win 30 to 33 seats in the 120-member Knesset, while the centrist Blue and White party led by former military chief Benny Gantz, looked likely to get 32-34 seats.
If the projections hold, it would be a virtual re-run of April’s polling that saw the rivals securing 32 seats each, far short of the 61 needed for an absolute majority.
Netanyahu is seeking an unprecedented fifth term while simultaneously facing a rash of corruption allegations that have eroded his popularity and threatened to remove him from office. He’s adopted a divisive and nationalistic campaign style and has sought to parlay his close relationship with President Trump to bolster the impression that he alone can guarantee Israel’s security.
Likud with its natural allies could muster 56 seats. That likely puts Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party, projected to secure about 10 seats, in the role of kingmaker.
Lieberman, a former top aide to Netanyahu who has since fallen out with the prime minister, campaigned on a pledge to bring Likud and Blue and White and his own party into a government. He told supporters election night that is still his goal.
“Everything we said before the election, we are also saying after the election,” he said. “We have only one option: a broad, liberal, national government made up of Yisrael Beitenu, Likud and Blue and White.”
Even so, Gantz has declined any coalition with Likud while Netanyahu faces corruption charges.
Although the results pointed to no clear victory, Netanyahu said he was ready to work on forming a government based on the right ideology.
“In the coming days we will convene negotiations to assemble a strong Zionist government and to prevent a dangerous anti-Zionist government,” he said.
Ayman Odeh, the head of Jioint List, an alliance of Arab-dominated parties, said Netanyahu’s anti-Arab rhetoric had boosted turnout and increased their numbers in parliament. If Gantz and Netanyahu form a coalition, it would leave Joint List the official opposition party in parliament.
“There’s a heavy price to pay for incitement,” he told Channel 13 television.