The official tally confirms projections that showed neither side likely to come out of the election with a clear majority. The scramble to negotiate new alliances has already begun.
Former defense minister Naftali Bennett, a Netanyahu rival who hasn’t ruled out bringing his Yamina party back into the prime minister’s bloc, heads one of the few swing factions. But his seven seats would still leave Netanyahu two seats short.
Another potential power-broker is Mansour Abbas, the head of a small Arab-Israeli party who has said he would be open to partner with either side.
It would be unprecedented for an Arab party to join Jewish parties in a governing coalition. But at least some members of Netanyahu’s party have said they would consider it. Others have fiercely opposed the idea, and Netanyahu was silent on the issue Thursday.
The election was Israel’s fourth in just two years, all of which have produced a split between those that support Netanyahu and those that want to end his tenure, which has now reached 14 years. Lawmakers failed after each of those elections to cobble together workable coalitions, and political analysts said this cycle will be no easier.
Israelis are watching the political haggling knowing that the most likely outcome will be yet another election.
“This round of elections was among the most challenging that the state of Israel has known. Beyond the fact that this is the fourth election in the past two and a half years, we experienced an enormous challenge in light of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Orly Adas, head of the Central Elections Committee.