Deadlock redux: Long night for Netanyahu as hopes dashed in overnight counting

After a starry-eyed night for the Likud and its supporters, they woke bleary-eyed to a reversal of their fortunes.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Likud’s expectations to form a clear right-wing government following rosy exit polls Tuesday night were dealt a major setback by Wednesday morning. With 89% of the vote counted, the prime minister’s bloc does not have a majority.

The wrench in the works is the result of the Ra’am (“United Arab List”) party passing the electoral threshold. It’s now predicted to receive five seats.

As of 9:40 a.m., Likud dropped one seat last night to 30. The ultra-religious Shas party receives 9, United Torah Judaism 7,  the conservative nationalist Religious Zionists 6. Together it adds up to 52 seats.

Adding in Yemina’s current seven mandates (the party would not commit to joining Netanyahu) only brings the total to 59, two short of a majority.

The “Just Not Bibi” camp fares better on paper. Consisting of parties from both Right and Left whose only commonality is a hatred for the current prime minister, together with the Israeli-Arab parties they muster a combined 61 seats, the bare majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Those parties include Yesh Atid (17), Blue and White (8), Israel Beiteinu (7), Labor (7), the Joint List (6), New Hope (6), and Meretz (5). They would need Ra’am (5) to join in order to get the 61 seats.

However, it’s highly unlikely that this constellation of strange bedfellows will ever coalesce. Israel Beiteinu and New Hope are solidly right-wing in their views and most pundits say it’s difficult to see them sitting in a government with the Joint List and Ra’am, both of which argue for a Palestinian state with half of Jerusalem as its capital.

In order to get to 61, the Likud party will attempt to peel away defectors from one of the right-wing parties. Likud officials have already said that they will try to convince individual New Hope members to defect, even if the party as a whole holds to its pledge not to sit in a Netanyahu-led government.

The Likud also has its eye on the Islamist Ra’am party. Netanyahu has been building a relationship with Ra’am party Chairman Mansour Abbas for months. Abbas split away from the Joint List to run on a more pragmatic platform that puts the needs of his Israeli-Arab constituents over larger Arab nationalist goals. Abbas says he will sit with any party willing to help his constituents.

If no bloc manages to put together a majority coalition, it would mean the country will go to a fifth round of elections later this year.