JERUSALEM, Israel – With 87% of votes counted Wednesday morning, Benjamin Netanyahu’s fate as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister remains unclear.
In Israel, people do not vote for individuals, but for parties to fill the 120-seat Knesset - or parliament. Sixty-one is the magic number of seats each party is aiming for to seize control of the government. But since no party has ever won a 61-seat majority on its own, parties must partner together to form government coalitions.
Netanyahu’s Likud party is currently leading as the largest party, but neither he nor his rivals have enough seats to clinch a majority and end the country’s years-long political stalemate.
The latest data shows Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc with 59 seats, even with a potential partnership with Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party. Meanwhile, the parties that oppose Netanyahu have 56 seats.
Surprisingly, a small Islamist party called Ra'am is dramatically changing the political landscape and could potentially be a kingmaker in this election. Ra'am is projected to win five seats, meaning both Netanyahu and his rivals may need to court this small Arab party to push them over the 61-seat threshold to determine who will be Israel's next prime minister.
Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas told Israeli media he is "willing to negotiate with both sides."
“If there is an offer, we’ll sit and talk,” he said.
All of this can change in the coming days as absentee ballots are counted.
WATCH Tuesday's CBN NEWS COVERAGE of the Vote:
Netanyahu pleaded with his political rivals early Wednesday to put aside their differences and partner with him to avoid a fifth election later this year.
The embattled prime minister said he will be “talking with all MKs” who might be willing to help him form a stable government.
“I stretch out my hand to all MKs who believe in this path. I don’t rule anybody out. I expect all who believe in our principles to act in a similar fashion,” said Netanyahu.
“Join us in this government,” he added.
Netanyahu also spoke with Bennett. The Yamina party leader has repeatedly said Netanyahu cannot be trusted and refused to say if he will partner with him to form a stable government. Instead, Bennett called for national unity and urged the country to wait until the final results are in.
“It will take several days until we know exactly the results and we will wait patiently to see what the picture of the government is,” Bennett said. “I can guarantee one thing, every government that is formed will take care of all the citizens of the country — secular, religious, traditional ultra-Orthodox, right and left, Jews and Arabs, all citizens of Israel. ”
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This election faced numerous challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic and low voter turnout. Israeli election officials recorded the lowest voter turnout rate since 2009, signaling that Israelis are suffering from voter fatigue.
This latest election was trigged by the failure of a power-sharing government between the rival Likud and the Blue and White parties. This government collapsed because the two parties could not agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline.
This year’s increase in absentee ballots will likely delay the final results for days.
Once those results are finalized, Israel’s president will meet with party heads to choose which party he believes is most capable of forming a government. Usually, but not always, the president chooses the party with the most seats in the Knesset.
Once that party is chosen, it will have four weeks to form a government. If successful, that coalition will be given a four-year term.
However, infighting within those political factions often triggers early elections.
Only time will tell if Israel has finally broken through this political deadlock, or if a fifth election is on the horizon.
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