Updated Mar 24, 2021 - World

Israeli election: Netanyahu short of majority with 87% of vote counted

Netanyahu. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With 87% of the votes counted in Israel's elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc falls short of the 61 seats in the Knesset needed for a majority. The center-left bloc has 61 seats, but faces an almost impossible task of forming a coalition.

Why it matters: According to the current results, it's likely that neither side will manage to form a coalition and Israel will move toward a new election in the summer — its fifth in less than two and a half years.

  • If the center-left bloc maintains its 61-seat majority after all votes are counted, it could appoint a new speaker of Knesset and take control of the parliament.
  • It could also pass a law, targeting Netanyahu, to ban anyone under a criminal indictment to serve as prime minister.

Between the lines: The initial projections released when polls closed on Tuesday showed Netanyahu's bloc with 61 seats, but the lead shrank when votes were actually counted.

  • This would be the fourth time Netanyahu has failed in getting a majority that would allow him to form a right-wing government. Netanyahu’s Likud party is set to win 30 seats — a decline of six seats in comparison to the previous elections.
  • Opposition leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party would win 18 seats and become the second-largest party. But Lapid is unlikely to get the support of all the members in his center-left bloc, or any support from the parties in the right-wing bloc.

The state of play: The main kingmaker right now is Mansour Abbas — the leader of the Islamist Raam party, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Abbas left the Joint Arab List to run in the elections independently and is likely to win five seats.

  • Although he is not in the pro-Netanyahu camp, Abbas announced he is ready to cooperate with whoever gives him more achievements for his voters and for the Arab minority. Lapid is expected to meet Abbas on Thursday.
  • Likud officials announced they won't rule out talks with Abbas in order to see if he is ready to support Netanyahu. Such a scenario would be unprecedented. It's not very likely, however, mainly because many of Netanyahu’s radical right-wing allies already announced they will refuse to form a government backed by Abbas.

The big picture: Three inconclusive elections have left Israel in a prolonged political crisis. If Netanyahu's bloc does pull out a majority in Israel's fourth election in two years, he could form the most religious and conservative coalition in the history of the country and potentially take steps to undercut his corruption trial.

  • If the broad bloc of anti-Netanyahu parties — ranging from left-wing to conservative — ends up with a majority, there could be an effort to cobble together a government that excludes Netanyahu. That would be very difficult.

Worth noting: Tuesday's election saw the lowest turnout since 2009, and was particularly low among Israel's Arab minority. Parties from the Arab Joint List could see their representation shrink by 40%-50%.

  • The radical right-wing “Religious Zionism” list, which includes members of a Jewish supremacist party, is projected to win 6-7 seats.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new results.

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