Deadlock prevails as tallying resumes in Israeli election

JERUSALEM (AP) — Vote tallying in Israel resumed Thursday in the deadlocked parliamentary elections held earlier this week, with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor those determined to topple him gaining a clear path to forming a government.

Tuesday’s vote, the fourth Israeli parliamentary elections in two years, was widely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s fitness to rule while under indictment. But neither the pro-Netanyahu camp nor his highly fragmented opponents gained 61 of the required 120 seats in parliament.

With around 95% of the votes counted, Netanyahu and his allies had a projected 52 seats compared to 57 held by his opponents. In the middle are two undecided parties: Yemina, a seven-seat nationalist party headed by a former Netanyahu lieutenant, and Raam, an Arab Islamist party that won four seats. Neither Naftali Bennett of Yamina nor Mansour Abbas of Raam has committed to either camp.

Deep divisions between the various parties will make either side gaining a majority difficult. Arab parties have never joined a governing coalition, and for nationalist parties such an alliance is anathema. Bezalel Smotrich, a Netanyahu ally and head of the Religious Zionist party, said Thursday that “a right wing government will not be established with support from Abbas. Period. Not on my watch.”

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said that the stalemate is Israel’s “worst political crisis in decades.”

“It’s apparent that our political system finds it very difficult to produce a decisive outcome,” Plesner said. He added that inherent weaknesses in Israel’s electoral system are compounded by “the Netanyahu factor”: a popular prime minister struggling to stay in power while under indictment. “Israelis are split right down the middle on this question.”

Several of Netanyahu’s opponents have started discussing advancement of a bill to disqualify a politician under indictment from being tasked with forming a government, a measure aimed at barring the long-serving prime minister from office. A similar bill was floated after the March 2020 elections, but was never passed.

Netanyahu is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three cases. He has denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed the charges as a witch-hunt by a biased law enforcement and media.

Despite the charges against him, Netanyahu’s Likud party received around a quarter of the votes, making it the largest party in parliament. A total of 13 parties received enough votes to enter the Knesset — the most since the 2003 election — and represent a variety of ultra-Orthodox, Arab, secular, nationalist, and liberal factions.

A final tally of the votes was expected to be completed by Friday.

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