Israel’s 4th election in two years has failed once again to produce a clear winner, due largely to what is attributed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s error, reports said on Monday.
In the latest development, the pro-Netanyahu group has declared the support of 52 members of the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), while his opponents have 57 Knesset Members (KM).
To form a government, 61 members of the Knesset are needed.
“Israel is clearly heading towards a period of paralysis and acrimony among the various parties, which may lead to a fifth election late in the summer,” a report said.
The Israeli electoral representation system makes it almost impossible for a single party to outrightly win an election.
Mr Netanyahu’s party, Likud, won 24.2 per cent of the votes and now has 30 Knesset Members (six less than before), while the centrist Yesh Atid, the main opposition party, won 13.9 per cent of the vote, having secured 17 seats in the Knesset.
The heterogeneous coalition of the anti-Netanyahu parties of Yesh Atid (17 seats), Kahol Lavan (8 seats), Yisrael Beiteinu (7 seats), Labour (7seats), New Hope (6 seats), Joint List (6 seats) and Meretz (6 seats) garner together 57 KMs and need another four to form a government.
Mr Netanyahu and his extreme right-wing, religious and Zionist allies control 52 KMs – Likud (30 seats), Shas (9 seats) United Torah Judaism (7 seats) and Religious Zionism (6 seats).
So, they need the support of another nine members of the Knesset.
Two parties – the right-wing Yamina party of Naftaly Bennet, which has elected seven KMs and the United Arab List (Raam) of Mansur Abbas, which managed to elect four KMs, so far remain uncommitted.
They will be the kingmakers, as Mr Netanyahu needs the support of both these parties to form a government, while his opponents need at least one of the two parties.
Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, this week will have consultations with all parties and eventually give the mandate to the candidate who has the highest probability of forming a government.
Negotiations between the parties that will eventually succeed in forming a governing coalition, which usually takes several weeks.
Many Israelis believe that the real reason Mr Netanyahu caused the March 23 election was to halt his criminal trial that will start on April 5.
He is accused of getting gifts from millionaire friends and for giving regulatory favours for media tycoons in return for favourable coverage.
Yisrael Beiteinu, leader, Avigdor Liberman, said he would advance a bill that would prevent a criminal defendant from forming a government.
This will ensure that if a fifth election is held, Mr Netanyahu will be barred from running.
The wily Mr Netanyahu, in the hope of achieving a clear victory in the elections, reneged on all his campaign promises to Benny Gantz of the Kahol Lavan party and by failing to agree on the country’s budget law, caused the collapse of his coalition government with Gantz.
So he forced the holding of a fourth election in two years.
He had expected that he would dissolve Kahol Lavan and win a lot of votes from the fact that by election day most adult Israelis were vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Evidently, he failed, as Kahol Lavan succeeded in winning eighth seats and Israelis were not so impressed by the vaccination success.
Even if Naftali Bennet, the leader of the right-wing Yamina Party, joins the Netanyahu coalition, after hard bargaining and after securing the cabinet posts he wants, Mr Netanyahu will still need the Arab KMs of Mansur Abbas.
Mr Abbas did not rule out the possibility of forging a coalition with the Netanyahu group, if he gets serious concessions from the embattled Netanyahu.
This, however, would be anathema for the ultra-orthodox religious parties, which flatly refused to sit in a government-supported by an Islamist party.
Patrick Kingsley of the New York Times says: “Whoever receives the invitation (to form a government) is expected to struggle to form a coalition.
“If Mr Netanyahu persuades Raam to join his coalition, he could lose the support of a far-right alliance already in his bloc.”
With that ally, he said, Religious Zionism would refuse to serve in a government-supported by Raam.
Similarly, Lapid may struggle to persuade two right-wing parties within his alliance to sit not just with Raam, but with another Arab group called the Joint List.
The coming weeks will be full of suspense as intensive negotiations among the various parties of the two coalitions will continue and Mr Netanyahu will remain Acting Prime Minister while being on trial for criminal offences.