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Netanyahu’s Tenure Threatened as Israeli Elections End With No Clear Winner

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, December 23, 2018 (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

The second round of Israeli national elections ended on Tuesday with no clear winner and difficult rounds of coalition negotiations expected in the coming weeks.

With 90 percent of the vote counted, the largest party was the Blue and White, led by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Blue and White is projected to win 32 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, known as the Knesset.

The second-largest party is current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, projected at this time to obtain 31 seats; however, given the election results and the nature of Israel’s parliamentary democracy, there is no clear path for Netanyahu to remain prime minister.

No Israeli party has ever won a 61-seat majority in the Knesset, forcing each government to form on the basis of a coalition between different smaller parties, in which the prime minister is usually the head of the largest party in the coalition.

The present election results make forming a coalition extremely difficult, as neither bloc of right-wing or left-wing parties can obtain the necessary 61-seat majority needed to govern. Netanyahu’s favored coalition, made up of his Likud in addition to several smaller religious and conservative parties, only adds up to about 57 seats, meaning that he will not be able to build a right-wing coalition with himself at the helm. If he indeed fails to do so, it will be the end of his tenure as the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history.

However, a projected left-wing coalition would yield even fewer seats, meaning that the Israeli left also cannot form a coalition by itself. The election results have thus fueled speculation that the only way to form a coalition would be in a so-called “unity government” with Likud, Blue and White, and other small parties, with Netanyahu and Gantz taking turns as prime minister.

Final voting results are expected later this week, after which coalition negotiations will begin.

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