JERUSALEM - Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is struggling to build a governing coalition even after beating challenger, former chief of staff Benny Gantz, in Monday’s elections — the country’s third in a year. Netanyahu — Israel’s longest-serving prime minister — has fallen only three seats short of forming a government coalition.
Exit polls on Monday night had originally given Netanyahu’s right wing and religious bloc 60 seat out of the 120 seats in the Knesset — Israel’s parliament. But final results changed the picture. In many ways, it is similar to the two previous elections this year with no party having a way to form a majority coalition.
Netanyahu did bounce back from the last election, with his Likud party becoming the largest, and Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin is expected to offer him the first chance to form a government.
Netanyahu insisted he had won big, despite three indictments on corruption charges. His trial is scheduled to start on March 17.
He said that Israelis gave him more votes for prime minister than anyone in Israel’s history and that — he said — was a knockout.
Netanyahu also accused Gantz of trying to undermine the results of the election by pushing forward a law that would make it illegal for a prime minister to continue to serve while under indictment.
Analysts say it will not be easy to pass that law quickly and it is not likely to affect the prime minister now.
Israeli journalist Amotz Asael says Netanyahu won, but still has a long road ahead of him.
“This is not a landslide. This does not automatically and sweepingly as they suggest. This does not automatically give them the kind of solid government they must produce in order to finally put an end to the political stalemate we’ve had here for a year,” he said.
Netanyahu has to try to get at least three members of the center-left bloc to change sides and support his government. Gayil Talshir, a professor of political science at Hebrew University, says that is not likely.
“I frankly don’t see this happening even though the Likud people are working very hard to get these defectors but since it was a very ideological election, I don’t see clear defectors from these parties and I don’t think that should the Likud possible coalition be shy of 61 votes they will succeed in pulling those mandates towards them,” she said.
Another option is a national unity government between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White. But given the mudslinging of the latest campaign, that also seems unlikely.
For now, Israelis are exactly where they were before the election, in a political deadlock.