Israel Election: Netanyahu, Rivals in Fourth Deadlock, Exit Polls Show

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Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “Israel Election: Netanyahu, Rivals in Fourth Deadlock, Exit Polls Show” – below is their description.

Israel’s fourth election in two years might not resolve the country’s damaging political impasse, with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his opponents having a secure path to form a coalition government, exit polls show.

If the polls are accurate, Netanyahu and his opponents will spend the coming days exploring possible alliances in an effort to piece together a government. If those efforts fail, Israel could face a fifth election.

Tuesday’s vote was a referendum on Netanyahu’s leadership, which has been tested by the graft charges against him and a coronavirus outbreak that’s been curbed but not quelled by the world’s most aggressive vaccination drive.

The Israeli leader and his declared allies captured 54 to 55 of parliament’s 120 seats, according to the exit polls. Shortly after television networks released the figures, Netanyahu said on social media that it was “clear that the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens are right-wingers, and they want a right-wing government.”

He could scrape together a parliamentary majority and form a government if he can secure the support of a former partner.

The potential kingmaker — the predominantly religious-nationalist Yamina, which the exit polls show won seven to eight seats — hasn’t declared which side it will back. Its leader, Naftali Bennett, served in previous Netanyahu governments and the two men share similar views on crucial issues, including the conflict with the Palestinians and Iran.

“It still is too close to call,” said Reuven Hazan, a Hebrew University political scientist. “If the numbers stay as is, I expect the president to designate Netanyahu to form a government.”

Opposition parties scored 59 seats together, the exit polls showed, but aren’t a unified bloc. They include Jewish and Arab parties that most likely wouldn’t agree to sit together, and if one were to bow out, the remainder would be short of a majority in the Knesset.

The tallying of the ballots has barely begun, so these numbers can change significantly. Because Israel’s political system is heavily splintered — a dozen parties appear poised to enter parliament — even a seat or two can tilt the scales.

Turnout, at 67.2%, declined sharply from the last election as voting fatigue set in, and was the lowest since 2013. Final results will be published on Thursday or Friday, with the count will be delayed by special procedures to tally the votes of coronavirus patients and people in quarantine.

Israel has been engulfed by political turmoil as regional and global turbulence mounts. Tensions with Iran and its proxies have flared repeatedly, and while the Israeli economy has weathered the coronavirus better than many others, risks are piling up.

Joblessness, including furloughs, is towering at 18%. The national budget hasn’t been updated since March 2019. And the government is watching warily as U.S. President Joe Biden works to rejoin the Iran nuclear accord and reset relations with the Palestinians that had foundered during Donald Trump’s era.

For Netanyahu — Israel’s longest-serving leader with a combined 15 years at the helm — there’s more than political survival at stake as his influence-peddling trial unfolds. A sixth term offers his only hope of winning a reprieve by passing legislation granting a sitting leader immunity from prosecution.

Netanyahu, who has sought immunity in the past, said over the weekend that he doesn’t support an ally’s efforts to legally shield him. He says he’s the victim of a witch hunt by opponents of his right-wing agenda who want to hound him out of office with criminal charges because they haven’t managed to oust him at the ballot box.

Tuesday’s vote was called after Netanyahu’s joint administration with Defense Minister Benny Gantz collapsed in December, just seven months into its term.

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