JERUSALEM, Israel - Israel's unofficial vote count is complete, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is the winner. While his victory initially looked like a possible end to the ongoing Israeli election saga, Netanyahu's conservative coalition is still three seats short of a majority in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset. That has inspired new attempts to oust him.
"As these elections look right now, it’s clear that [Blue and White Leader Benny Gantz] and his bloc lost, but it is not clear that Netanyahu has a clear victory,” explained Gideon Rahat, senior fellow at Israel Democracy Institute.
Likud won 36 seats in Monday's election, the largest of any party, but his bloc of right-wing religious parties have a total of 58 seats, short of the 61 seats needed to form a government. Gantz's Blue and White party won only 33 seats, and his center-left coalition can assemble a maximum of 55 seats.
"The election results are slowly tallying up and it is evident that Netanyahu does not have 61 (seats) to form a government. We will examine our way,” said Gantz.
Israel knows Netanyahu has the best chance to form a government. What isn't known is whether Israel’s president, the courts or the new Knesset will block Netanyahu’s push to build a coalition.
Gantz wants the next Knesset to pass a law barring an indicted prime minister from forming a government.
Netanyahu has been indicted in several corruption cases and his trial begins on March 17, the same day the new Knesset is sworn in.
Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman says he backs such a law. That means a majority of the Knesset, 62 members, support the measure that would effectively bar Netanyahu from forming the next government.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri pointed out that the right won a half-million more votes than the left; and he added, quote, "we will not allow election results to be changed by legislation."
In addition to this legislation, three main potential scenarios are unfolding for Israel’s political landscape:
- Netanyahu forms a coalition by asking members of the Blue and White or Labor to defect and join a right-wing coalition.
- A left-wing coalition forms, but this seems highly unlikely.
- Netanyahu or other Knesset members fail to form a majority government and Israelis go to fourth elections in 2020.
The next few days and weeks will determine which one of these scenarios comes to pass.