Israeli election results complicate Netanyahu's path to governing coalition

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party won the most seats in Israel's legislature, though the party along with its allied conservative factions failed to achieve the majority necessary for a governing coalition.

According to The Washington Post, the bloc of parties most likely to align themselves with Netanyahu only won 52 seats in the 120-member Israeli Knesset this week, just nine short of the number required to reach a majority.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s opponents also failed to achieve a majority, collectively securing 57 seats, according to the Post, leaving questions on how the parties will negotiate to achieve a governing coalition. 

Reuters reported Thursday that while political commentators initially saw an agreement between Netanyahu and the United Arab List (UAL) as unlikely, some are now saying that the prime minister could agree to improve conditions for Israel’s 21 percent Arab minority in exchange for governing support. 

The UAL, which has pro-Palestinian sympathies, has signaled openness to such an arrangement, with UAL member Waleed Taha telling Israel’s Army Radio in a recent interview, “Sometimes coalitions include people who don’t really like each other,” Reuters reported. 

Such a move, however, will likely face pushback from some of Netanyahu’s backers, including the ultranationalist party Religious Zionism, which said it would drop support for Netanyahu should he reach an agreement with UAL. 

“No rightist government predicated on UAL will arise. Period. Not (with UAL) on the inside, nor the outside, not through abstention, nor through some other kind of (scheme),” Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich wrote on Facebook, according to Reuters. 

The Post noted Thursday that several have called on former defense minister Naftali Bennett, a Netanyahu rival, to join forces with the prime minister.  

While Bennett has not ruled out such a move, his Yamina party’s seven seats would still mean that Netanyahu would need two additional ones to reach a governing coalition. 

The elections come amid increased pressure surrounding Netanyahu, whose popularity had bolstered in past elections due to his close relationship with former President Trump, though the prime minister has still expressed optimism amid President Biden's tougher stance on Israeli actions in the West Bank. 

This week’s election marks Israel's fourth in two years and was spurred in December when its parliament missed a deadline to pass a budget. The recent elections have continued to divide Israel’s political parties, with more rallying against Netanyahu. 

Last week, tens of thousands of protesters gathered outside Netanyahu’s home, demanding an end to the leader’s 12-year rule. 

The prime minister also faces an alleged corruption scandal that includes charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, though Netanyahu has continued to deny any wrongdoing.

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