The polls in Israel closed at 10PM on September 17th. Almost 70% of Israel’s population came out to vote, which was slightly more than the percentage from April this year. From the moment of the earliest exit polls and continuing into Wednesday evening, the results consistently point to a deadlock with no clear winner. As of the latest update by the Central Election Committee at 8:54PM today with 63.23% of votes counted the results are as follows (with number of seats in parentheses):
- Blue & White 25.64% (33)
- Likud 25.02% (32)
- Joint List: 10.76% (12)
- Shas: 7.56% (9)
- Yisrael Beiteinu: 7.12% (8)
- United Torah Judaism: 7.12% (8)
- Yamina: 5.72% (7)
- Labor-Gesher: 4.81% (6)
- Democratic Union: 4.30% (5)
In order to form a government, a coalition must be built with a total of 61 seats.
Once all the votes are counted President Reuven Rivlin plans to meet with representatives from each party and make a determination of which party he should task with the formation of the government. The President stated earlier this week that the nomination would “be guided in part by the need to avoid a third election”. Has he lost confidence in Netanyahu after the failure to form a coalition earlier this year? Does he have faith that Gantz could pull together enough support to form his own coalition?
A few possible scenarios can emerge. Netanyahu has already met with the leaders from Yamina, Shas, and United Torah Judaism to form a negotiating coalition with these parties, the right-wing block. The right-wing path forward could include reaching out to Labor-Gesher, a left wing party primarily focused on issues of welfare and social issues. Labor, however, has already responded that they are not interested. Netanyahu could also try reaching out to factions within the Blue and White party.
The left-wing party likewise has a difficult path forward. The conventional wisdom says they will be unable to form a party with the Arab Joint List party, at least for political reasons. Joint List leaders have come forward with this possibility, but Blue and White leaders were not impressed. The only other path forward for Blue and White without Likud would be to bring in staunchly right-wing Yamina and ring-wing religious Shas, which seems very unlikely.
The other option is for Blue and White and Likud to bury the hatchet and form a broad unity government. This is the option Yisrael Beiteinu’s leader Avigdor Liberman is pushing for. Liberman has made a push for a secular unity government that excludes the religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, as well as the Arab Joint List party. Policy wise this may not be so difficult, but determining who is in charge will prove to be another matter. The leaders of Blue and White and Likud have spent months viciously attacking one-another. President Rivlin stated that he would not push for a unity government until hearing from all the parties. The last option, which nobody prefers, is for Israel to go back to elections again.