|As the results are now almost all in from Monday’s election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as having won the most Knesset seats, but his right-wing bloc fell short of an overall majority, leaving no clear winner and raising the prospect of a fourth election.
This week’s election was the country’s third in less than a year – unprecedented in Israeli history.
With over 99% of the votes counted, Likud won 36, Blue and White 33 seats, Joint (Arab) List 15 seats, Shas 9 seats, United Torah Judaism 7 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu 7 seats, Labour-Gesher-Meretz 7 seats, Yamina 6 seats.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties has a total of 58 seats, three short of the 61 majority needed to form a government. In a late night speech, Netanyahu called the results “a huge victory” and “massive achievement against all the odds”.
Defying coronavirus fears, turnout was an impressive 71%, the highest in 21 years.
A look at the breakdown of the total votes shows strong divisions between geographical areas, with some parts of the country giving a big lead to Likud and others strongly backing Blue and White. This polarisation can be clearly seen in the results for Tel Aviv (predominantly backing Blue and White) compared to Jerusalem, where Likud came first.
Significantly, the Joint (Arab) List won an historic 15 seats, due to a marked increase in support based on higher turnout in Arab communities and a possible surge in support from left wing Jewish Israelis. Leader Ayman Odeh hailed the “crazy achievement” and thanked Arab and Jewish voters.
Benny Gantz’s Blue and White have maintained they will not serve in a government led by Netanyahu due to his impending corruption trial commencing on 17th March. The Joint List and Labour-Gesher-Meretz also confirmed they would not join a Netanyahu government. Secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman continues to insist he will also not serve in a government with what he calls the “ultra-Orthodox-messianic bloc”. However, he also underlined he would do all he could to prevent a fourth election.
At this moment, the top priority of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc is to find enough defectors from political parties outside the bloc to build a majority of 61 Knesset Members. For now, all suspected candidates appear to be staying loyal to their parties.
Among those considered to potentially defect include MKs Tzvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel of the centrist Blue and White, who have both worked for Netanyahu and are considered on the right of the party. Likud are thought to be targeting Blue and White’s Omer Yankelevich, as she has allegedly criticised Benny Gantz’s leadership. The leader of Gesher, Orly Levy-Abekasis is also seen as a prime target, but she dismissed the speculation today as “absurd”. Blue and White MK Meirav Cohen confirmed yesterday that she had been approached by Likud with an offer of the pensioners or welfare portfolio, and turned down the offer.
Meanwhile, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said that his party would seek legislation to bar Benjamin Netanyahu from serving as Prime Minister due to the upcoming corruption trial. Netanyahu accused his rival of seeking to undermine democracy: “Gantz lost and now he’s trying to steal the election… The people’s will is clear. The national Zionist camp includes 58 seats. The leftist Zionist camp includes 47 seats”. Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman said today that his party will back legislation barring Netanyahu from being Prime Minister.
Netanyahu, who will go on trial in two weeks for bribery, fraud and breach of trust is thought to be seeking support for a legislative mechanism to grant him immunity.