Jerusalem, March 24
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prospects for another term looked uncertain on Wednesday after partial results from a national election projected no clear path to victory. Not even his stewardship of Israel’s world-beating Covid-19 vaccination roll-out — a central pillar of his campaign — proved enough for Netanyahu to break through the political deadlock that has seen four elections in two years.
With about 88 per cent of votes counted it appeared that Netanyahu, 71, would have to cobble together a coalition from a combination of right-wing allies, ultra-Orthodox parties, ultra-nationalists, Arabs and defectors to secure another term. Should a hard-right government emerge, it would likely be at loggerheads with the Democratic administration of US President Joe Biden over issues such as Palestinian statehood and the US engagement with Israel’s arch-enemy Iran over its nuclear programme. Some centre-left parties made a better showing than expected after highlighting longstanding corruption allegations against Netanyahu — which he denies — and accusing him of mishandling the early months of the pandemic. But like Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc it fell short of a governing majority in the 120-member parliament. And it has a less clear route to forming a coalition, having to unite parties from different wings of the political spectrum.
PM Was hopeful of a decisive victory
- In an address to supporters early Wednesday, a visibly subdued Benjamin Netanyahu boasted of a “great achievement” but stopped short of declaring victory.
- The PM instead appeared to reach out to his opponents and called for formation of a “stable government”.
- Netanyahu had been hoping for a decisive victory that would allow him to form a government with trusted allies that could provide him immunity from corruption charges.
Immediately after polls closed on Tuesday, Netanyahu claimed victory and said he hoped to form a “stable right-wing government”. But as first results trickled in and seemed to shift against him, he did not repeat the claim in his televised post-election speech.
One potential kingmaker is Naftali Bennett, 48, a former defence minister who favours annexing parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Bennett’s hawkish Yamina party is projected to win seven seats. He remained non-committal after the vote, saying he would only do “what is good for Israel”. Yohanan Plesner, head of the Israel Democracy Institute, predicted political paralysis and said a fifth election was possible. — Reuters