Nearly 90% of the votes were counted in Israel on Wednesday, a day after the country went to the polls to elect a new parliament, but there was no clear winner. That deadlock has left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again scrambling to recruit support from enough small, special-interest parties to give his own party, Likud, a parliamentary majority.
Netanyahufor his country in record time, immunizing a huge proportion of the country's adults and enabling Israel's economy to entirely reopen before Election Day. His strategists had hoped that would deliver enough votes to clinch a majority in parliament, but it wasn't to be.
Now he'll only be able to form a new government and return as Prime Minister if he's able to cobble together a coalition — and that's no sure thing.
A coalition of opposition parties (secular, centrist and left-wing) could block Netanyahu's chances by forming a majority of their own.
There are some eyebrow-raising alliances in the offing: A small Islamist party hasn't ruled out joining Netanyahu's right-wing government. That could shake things up.
So could Naftali Bennet, a right-wing former Defense Minister under Netanyahu whose party could play king-maker — giving the premier his majority in return for some influential cabinet posts, which would force Netanyahu to compromise his agenda. Bennet could also decide to join an opposition coalition.
Another potential kingmaker could be Arab leader Mansour Abbas, who recently positioned himself as a Netanyahu ally. His party has five seats to contribute, but it would, of course, also ask for political concessions in return.
Only two things are sure at this stage. First: Israelis dread the prospect of returning to the polls this summer in the event a majority coalition proves impossible. Second: Netanyahu is due back in court in April, on trial for fraud and bribery.
Those proceedings will doubtlessly weigh on the minds of the Prime Minister's friends, foes, and those still deciding how to play their cards as the wrangling and deal-making continue – a process expected to drag on all week.
This isn't Netanyahu's first coalition scramble in the wake of an indecisive Likud election performance. Just less than a year ago Israel's Supreme Court gave him the go-ahead to form his current coalition government as he battles the corruption charges.
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