Israel Election Results Show Stalemate

TEL AVIV — Israel’s fourth election in two years has ended in another stalemate, with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his opponents able to win a parliamentary majority, according to final results released Thursday by the Israeli election authority.

The results set the stage for weeks or even months of protracted coalition negotiations that many analysts expect may fail, prompting yet another election in late summer.

The results, though final, are not yet official since they have yet to be formally presented to the country’s largely ceremonial president, Reuven Rivlin. That will happen next Wednesday, a spokesman for the central elections committee said.

But the count confirms earlier projections that Mr. Netanyahu’s alliance of right-wing and religious parties won 52 seats, nine short of an overall majority. A heterogeneous collection of centrist, left-wing, right-wing and Arab opposition parties won 57.

Islamist Arab party Raam, and the right-wing Yamina — won four and seven seats respectively and will be the focus of competing attempts by Mr. Netanyahu and the leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, to form a coalition.

confronting vital questions about how to reform their election system and mend deep social divides.

After two elections in 2019, no one was able to piece together a majority coalition and form a government. After the 2020 contest, Mr. Netanyahu and some of his adversaries entered into an unwieldy coalition government that could not agree on a budget, forcing the latest election.

The continued stalemate leaves Mr. Netanyahu in power as a caretaker prime minister, even as he stands trial on corruption charges that he denies. The election upended the political map, dividing voters less by political ideology than by their attitude toward Mr. Netanyahu and his decision to run despite being under indictment.

Should he eventually form a formal coalition government, critics fear he will use his office to push through a law that would grant him legal immunity. Mr. Netanyahu rejects the claim, but has promised legal reforms that would limit the role of the Supreme Court.

Mr. Rivlin now takes center stage: He must consult with each of the 13 parties elected to Parliament before formally asking a political leader to try to form a majority coalition, an invitation that is likely to be made in 10 days.

Israeli presidents have typically offered this right to the leader of the largest party, which in this case would be Mr. Netanyahu, whose Likud party won 30 seats.

But Mr. Rivlin has the right to offer it to any lawmaker he deems best able to form a coalition, which in this case might be Mr. Lapid.

Whoever receives the invitation 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. That alliance, Religious Zionism, said Thursday that it would refuse to serve in a government supported by Raam.

Similarly, Mr. 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.

And even if either leader somehow does form a coalition, it is expected to be so fragile and ideologically incoherent that it would struggle to last longer than a few months.

Irit Pazner Garshowitz contributed reporting.

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Arab Party Could Break Israel Election Deadlock

JERUSALEM — After a fourth Israeli election in two years appears to have ended in another stalemate, leaving many Israelis feeling trapped in an endless loop, there was at least one surprising result on Wednesday: An Arab political party has emerged as a potential kingmaker.

Even more surprising, the party was Raam, an Islamist group with roots in the same religious movement as Hamas, the militant group that runs the Gaza Strip. For years, Raam was rarely interested in working with the Israeli leadership and, like most Arab parties, was ostracized by its Jewish counterparts.

But according to the latest vote count, Raam’s five seats hold the balance of power between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc and the motley alliance of parties that seeks to end his 12 years in power. The vote tally is not yet final, and Raam has previously suggested it would only support a government from the outside.

Still, even the possibility of Raam playing a deciding role in the formation of a coalition government is making waves in Israel. An independent Arab party has never been part of an Israeli government before, although some Arab lawmakers supported Yitzhak Rabin’s government from the outside in the 1990s.

Mansour Abbas, the party’s leader, said in a television interview on Wednesday. In the past, he added, mainstream parties “were excluding us and we were excluding ourselves. Today, Raam is at least challenging the political system. It is saying, ‘Friends, we exist here.’”

The party is not in “anyone’s pocket,” he added. “I am not ruling out anyone but if someone rules us out, then we will of course rule him out.”

leave the country.

legislation that downgraded the status of the Arabic language and said that only Jews had the right to determine the nature of the Israeli state. In a previous election, Mr. Netanyahu warned of high Arab turnout as a threat to encourage his own supporters to vote.

Raam would also be cooperating with an alliance that includes far-right politicians who want to expel Arab citizens of Israel they deem “disloyal” to the Israeli state. One of those politicians, Itamar Ben Gvir, until recently hung in his home a picture of a Jewish extremist who murdered 29 Palestinian Muslims in a West Bank mosque in 1994.

But Mr. Abbas is prepared to consider these possible associations because he believes it is the only way for Arab citizens to secure government support in the fight against the central problems assailing the Arab community — gang violence, poverty and restrictions on their access to housing, land and planning permission.

In the past, “Arab politicians have been onlookers in the political process in Israel,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in February. Today, he added, “Arabs are looking for a real role in Israeli politics.”

The move would mark the culmination of a gradual process in which Arab parties and voters have grown incrementally more involved in the electoral process.

Raam, a Hebrew acronym that stands for the United Arab List, is affiliated with a branch of an Islamist movement that for years did not participate in Israeli elections. Raam was founded in 1996 after some members of that movement voted by a narrow margin to run for Parliament, an event that split the movement in two. The other branch, which Israel has outlawed and whose leader it has jailed, does not participate in elections.

the third-largest party in three recent Israeli elections, in a sign of the Arab minority’s growing political sway.

said if a right-wing government of Zionist parties was impossible to assemble, his party would consider “options that are currently undesirable but perhaps better than a fifth election.”

Raam’s newfound relevance constitutes “a historical moment,” said Basha’er Fahoum-Jayoussi, the co-chairwoman of the board of the Abraham Initiatives, a nongovernmental group that promotes equality between Arabs and Jews. “The Arab vote is not only being legitimized but the Palestinian-Arab community in Israel is being recognized as a political power with the ability to play an active and influential part in the political arena.”

The news was also greeted happily in the Negev desert, where dozens of Arab villages are threatened with demolition because they were built without authorization.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, has accused Mr. Abbas of assenting to a relationship with the Israeli state that frames Arabs as subjects who can be bought off, rather than as citizens with equal rights.

“Mansour Abbas is capable of accepting this,” Mr. Odeh said in an interview before the election. “But I will not.”

Irit Pazner Garshowitz and Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting.

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Netanyahu’s Party Leads in Israel Elections

It was a message that resonated with many voters.

“Bibi is the only leader in this country in my eyes,” said Elad Shnezik, a 24-year-old foreign-exchange trader who voted for Likud in Tzur Hadassah, a suburb west of Jerusalem. “I have never seen anything bad in his actions. Everything he does, he does for the people.”

But turnout was the lowest since 2013, about 67 percent, as some voters appeared to tire of the relentless election cycle.

“The only one excited about going out to vote today is our dog, who is getting an extra walk this morning,” said Gideon Zehavi, 54, a psychologist from Rehovot in central Israel.

Turnout was projected to be particularly low among the Arab minority, according to some Arab pollsters. Some said they were deflated by a split within the main Arab political alliance, which reduced the collective power of Arab lawmakers.

“My honest opinion is it’s not worth wasting my time to vote for any of the parties,” said Amir Younes, 32, a restaurant worker in Jaffa. “We have been through this show many times before and the result is the same.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s attempts to position himself as a diplomatic trailblazer were dampened in the final days of the campaign, after a planned photo-opportunity in Abu Dhabi with the leadership of the United Arab Emirates fell through, amid Emirati frustration about being used as a prop in Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election campaign.

And Mr. Netanyahu’s pandemic leadership brought him as much criticism as praise. Though he presided over a successful vaccine rollout, he was accused of playing politics with other aspects of the pandemic response. In January, he resisted giving significantly larger fines to people who broke antivirus measures, a policy that would have disproportionately affected ultra-Orthodox Israelis. Ultra-Orthodox parties form about a quarter of Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing alliance, and he needs their support to form a coalition.

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Netanyahu’s Party Leads but Faces Obstacles to Forming Government

It was a message that resonated with many voters.

“Bibi is the only leader in this country in my eyes,” said Elad Shnezik, a 24-year-old foreign-exchange trader who voted for Likud in Tzur Hadassah, a suburb west of Jerusalem. “I have never seen anything bad in his actions. Everything he does, he does for the people.”

But turnout was the lowest since 2013, about 67 percent, as some voters appeared to tire of the relentless election cycle.

“The only one excited about going out to vote today is our dog, who is getting an extra walk this morning,” said Gideon Zehavi, 54, a psychologist from Rehovot in central Israel.

Turnout was projected to be particularly low among the Arab minority, according to some Arab pollsters. Some said they were deflated by a split within the main Arab political alliance, which reduced the collective power of Arab lawmakers.

“My honest opinion is it’s not worth wasting my time to vote for any of the parties,” said Amir Younes, 32, a restaurant worker in Jaffa. “We have been through this show many times before and the result is the same.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s attempts to position himself as a diplomatic trailblazer were dampened in the final days of the campaign, after a planned photo-opportunity in Abu Dhabi with the leadership of the United Arab Emirates fell through, amid Emirati frustration about being used as a prop in Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election campaign.

And Mr. Netanyahu’s pandemic leadership brought him as much criticism as praise. Though he presided over a successful vaccine rollout, he was accused of playing politics with other aspects of the pandemic response. In January, he resisted giving significantly larger fines to people who broke antivirus measures, a policy that would have disproportionately affected ultra-Orthodox Israelis. Ultra-Orthodox parties form about a quarter of Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing alliance, and he needs their support to form a coalition.

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Will Israel’s Strong Vaccination Campaign Give Netanyahu an Election Edge?

He has presented himself as the only candidate who could have pulled off the deal with Pfizer to secure the early delivery of millions of vaccines, boasting of his personal appeals to Pfizer’s CEO, Albert Bourla, who, as a son of Holocaust survivors, had great affinity for Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu even posted a clip from South Park, the American animated sitcom, acknowledging Israel’s vaccination supremacy.

But experts said his claim that the virus was in the rearview mirror was overly optimistic.

Just months ago, Israel’s daily infection rates and death rates were among the worst in the world. By February, Israel was also leading the world in the number of lockdown days. About two million Israelis under 16 are so far unable to get vaccinated and about a million eligible citizens have so far chosen not to.

With much of the adult population now vaccinated, weekly infection rates have been dropping dramatically. But there are still more than a thousand new cases a day, an infection rate that, adjusted for population, remains higher than those of the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Spain and others.

Health officials approved the reopening of businesses and leisure activities. But they sharply criticized a High Court decision this week lifting the quotas on airport arrivals, in part to allow Israeli citizens abroad to get back and vote.

“The High Court is taking responsibility for the risk of mutations entering Israel,” Yoav Kish, the deputy health minister, wrote on Twitter. “Good luck to us all.”

Critics blame the government for having failed to establish a reliable system to enforce quarantine for people entering the country, and health experts warn that they could bring in dangerous variants of the virus that are more resistant to the vaccine.

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Israel Has Its 4th National Election in 2 Years. Here’s Why.

JERUSALEM — Israelis head to the polls on Tuesday for the fourth time in two years, hoping to break a seemingly endless cycle of elections and a political deadlock that has left the country without a national budget during a pandemic.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes Israel’s world-leading vaccination program, which has helped the country emerge in recent days into something approaching normality, will give him and his right-wing allies an edge and the stable majority that proved elusive in three earlier rounds of elections.

But Mr. Netanyahu, prime minister since 2009, is running for re-election while standing trial on corruption charges — a dynamic that opposition parties hope will prompt voters to finally push him out of office.

In reality, though, polls show that neither bloc has a clear route to a majority, leaving many Israelis bracing for another inconclusive result, and a possible fifth election later in the year.

Parliament to dissolve, forcing a new election, though for now the government remains in place.

than by whether they are for or against Mr. Netanyahu.

a key constituency in this election campaign.

In a sign of how the political map has changed, two of Mr. Netanyahu’s principal challengers in this election cycle are also right-wingers. Gideon Saar is a former interior minister for Mr. Netanyahu’s party and Naftali Bennett is Mr. Netanyahu’s former chief of staff.

The third leading challenger is Yair Lapid, a centrist former broadcast journalist whose party is mounting the strongest challenge to Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. Gantz is no longer considered a viable threat to the prime minister. Polls suggest his party may even fail to win a seat, largely because of anger among his former supporters over his decision to form a unity government with Mr. Netanyahu in the first place, an arrangement he had promised not to join.

The Parliament, known in Hebrew as the Knesset, has 120 seats that are allocated on a proportional basis to parties that win more than 3.25 percent of the vote.

The system almost guarantees that no single party will win an outright majority, often giving tiny parties big influence in the deal-making that forms coalitions. The system allows for a broad range of voices in Parliament but forming stable coalitions under it is difficult.

It could take weeks or possibly months for a new government to be formed — if one can be formed — and at any point in the process, a majority of the Knesset could vote to dissolve again, forcing yet another election.

In the days after the election, Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, will give one lawmaker four weeks to try to form a coalition. He usually gives that mandate to the leader of the party that won the highest number of seats, which is likely to be Mr. Netanyahu. But he could grant it to another lawmaker, like Mr. Lapid, who he believes has a better chance at pulling together a viable coalition.

If that lawmaker’s efforts break down, the president can give a second candidate another four weeks to form a government. If that process also stutters, Parliament itself can nominate a third candidate to give it a go. And if he or she fails, Parliament dissolves and another election is called.

In the meantime, Mr. Netanyahu will remain caretaker prime minister. If somehow the deadlock continues until November, Mr. Gantz might still succeed him. The power-sharing deal the pair agreed to last April was enshrined into Israeli law, and stipulated that Mr. Gantz would become prime minister in November 2021.

In recent weeks, Israel has sent children back to school, reopened restaurants for in-house dining and allowed vaccinated people to attend concerts and theater performances.

Mr. Netanyahu hopes the success of Israel’s vaccine rollout, which has given a majority of Israelis at least one dose, will help propel him to victory.

But his pandemic record may also cost him. Some voters believe he politicized certain key decisions — for instance, capping some fines for flouting antivirus regulations at levels much lower than public health experts recommended.

Critics perceived this as a sop to ultra-Orthodox Israelis, some of whom flouted coronavirus restrictions on mass gatherings. Mr. Netanyahu will need the support of two ultra-Orthodox parties to remain in office after the election.

Voting by mail is not available in Israel. To prevent the spread of the virus, special polling stations are being set up for quarantined people and for Covid-19 patients.

No one is ruling it out. Mr. Netanyahu’s party, Likud, is predicted to emerge as the largest party, with around 30 seats. But his allies may not win enough seats to give him a majority of 61.

And though current polling suggests the opposition parties will collectively win more than 61 seats, it’s unclear whether their profound ideological differences will allow them to come together.

The key player could be Mr. Bennett. Though he wants to replace Mr. Netanyahu, he has also not ruled out joining his government.

Patrick Kingsley and Isabel Kershner contributed reporting.

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As 4th Election Looms, Some Ask: Is Israel’s Democracy Broken?

Polling suggests that next week’s vote is unlikely to break the deadlock, leading many Israelis to brace for yet a fifth election later this year.

“Is Israeli democracy broken, given what we’ve seen over the last couple of years?” asked Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a research group in Jerusalem. No, he said, it was “flawed but not broken,” and for that he credits the Civil Service professionals who have kept it going.

But if the system is not yet broken, it is deep in dysfunction.

Parliament did not pass a state budget for either 2020 or 2021, despite the extraordinary costs of the pandemic, forcing government agencies to go month to month. Cabinet meetings have been postponed or canceled because of disputes within the coalition, and cabinet approval of critical foreign policy decisions has occasionally been bypassed altogether. Key government positions remain unfilled. The executive branch is at war with the judicial branch.

And the prime minister, who denies the charges against him and dismisses the prosecution as a coup attempt, is trying to run the country even as he stands trial.

To his critics, Mr. Netanyahu has trapped the country in an electoral limbo for one main reason: to win enough seats in Parliament to allow him to change the law and circumvent his court case.

This time, he is accused of sabotaging budget negotiations to collapse the coalition government and trigger next week’s elections. The action upended a power-sharing agreement that would have allowed Benny Gantz, Mr. Netanyahu’s centrist coalition partner, to replace him as prime minister this fall.

The maneuver was reminiscent of one that Mr. Netanyahu pulled off three elections ago, in May 2019, when he led a push to dissolve Parliament and start a new election cycle. The move prevented the president, Reuven Rivlin, from giving Mr. Gantz an opportunity to try to form a coalition that could have removed Mr. Netanyahu from power.

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