“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 now oppose him. “Measures must now be taken to realize the possibility of forming a government for change.”
To form a government, a candidate must work with allied partners to secure a majority of 61 seats in the Knesset, or parliament.
According to the final results released by the Israeli electoral commission, Netanyahu and his allies won 52 seats, compared with 57 held by his opponents.
In the middle were two undecided parties: Yamina, a seven-seat nationalist party led by a former lieutenant from Netanyahu, and Raam, an Arab Islamic party that won four seats.
Neither Yft Naftali Bennett nor Raam’s Mansour Abbas committed to either camp. However, deep divisions in the pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu blocs can make it difficult for either side to secure a majority with them.
“Israel is facing its worst political crisis in decades. It is evident that our political system finds it very difficult to produce a decisive result, ”said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Institute of Democracy. “This is due to the weaknesses inherent in our electoral system, but also to the Netanyahu factor.”
Tuesday’s vote was widely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s leadership style and his ability to govern while on charges. “The Israelis are divided in the middle on this issue,” said Plesner.
Netanyahu’s supporters see him as a statesman with a unique qualification to lead the country. He campaigned on the management of the country’s successful coronavirus vaccination program and diplomatic agreements signed last year with four Arab countries.
His opponents, however, say that Netanyahu is unreliable and has spoiled many aspects of the coronavirus crisis. They also say that he should not rule the country at the moment when he is on trial on multiple charges of corruption. The training phase, in which a series of former advisers will take a stand against him, is scheduled to begin on April 5.
Thursday’s results set the stage for weeks of uncertainty as the country’s president, Reuven Rivlin, consults with party leaders to see if they can agree on a candidate who can forge a new majority in the government.
Merav Michaeli, whose center-left Labor Party won seven seats, declared victory by the anti-Netanyahu camp. “Now it is time to form a government,” she told Canal 13 on TV.
This may not be so simple. The anti-Netanyahu camp includes a diverse range of parties ranging from left-wing Arab factions to hardline nationalists who oppose cooperation with them.
One option launched on Thursday was the possibility of using its small parliamentary majority to pass legislation that would disqualify an indicted politician from forming a new government, a move that aims to bar Netanyahu from office. Several parties have said they are leaning in that direction.
Netanyahu is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and taking bribes in three cases. He denied any wrongdoing and called the accusations a witch hunt by police and the media biased. His opponents accuse him of leading the country in repeated elections in hopes of winning a parliament that would guarantee him immunity from prosecution.
Dani Dayan, a member of the Nova Esperança de Saar party, said he was not enthusiastic about the search for a “personalized” law, but said it is worth considering.
“Netanyahu made a mess between his process and the needs of the state. Therefore, there is room for debate on the subject ”, he said.
Netanyahu’s Likud party issued an angry statement comparing its opponents to clerical leadership in Iran, which examines candidates for public office. “The ‘bloc of change’ is just a good way of saying an ‘anti-democratic bloc,” said Likud.
Despite the accusations against him, Netanyahu’s Likud party received about a quarter of the vote, making it the largest party in parliament. A total of 13 parties received enough votes to enter the Knesset – the largest since the 2003 election – leaving parliament divided among a series of medium-sized parties representing Jewish, Arab, secular, nationalist and liberal ultra-Orthodox factions.
For Netanyahu to secure the majority, he would likely need to bring in Bennett, who leads a popular party among hardline Jewish nationalists, and Abbas, whose party is inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood movement across the region. Bennett ruled out an alliance with Abbas.
In another coup for Netanyahu, Bezalel Smotrich, an ally of the prime minister and head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, said on Thursday that “a right-wing government will not be established with the support of Abbas. Time course. Not on my watch. “
Netanyahu will also try to look for individual lawmakers across the corridor to “desert” and join him.
This, for now, seems like a long shot, given the hostility towards the prime minister.
Bennett, Saar and Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, are all former Netanyahu confidants who have had complicated breaks with the prime minister.
Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, struck a power-sharing deal with Netanyahu last year, only to see him disintegrate rapidly in the midst of incessant infighting.
Netanyahu’s opponents will also explore several possible combinations that could guarantee the required majority of 61 seats. This could include attracting Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies and even disgruntled members of the Likud.
The impressive range of possibilities means that probably weeks of uncertainty are yet to come, with the chance of an unprecedented fifth consecutive election if an alternative coalition cannot be found.
Last Thursday, Yair Lapid, whose centrist party Yesh Atid finished second with 17 seats, announced that he had met with Michaeli and “discussed cooperation options to build a coalition for change.”
He said they agreed to “meet again and continue the discussions”.