Israeli election: Netanyahu leads but not enough yet to govern

With 90 percent of votes counted in Israel's third election this year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not yet have a majority in parliament necessary to form a new government. 

Oded Balilty/AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters in Tel Aviv, after Israeli elections, March 2, 2020. Results so far show Mr. Netanyahu with a slight lead, but not enough parliamentary seats to form a new government.

Israel's embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced an uncertain path to staying in office on Tuesday, even as preliminary results showed his Likud party pulling ahead of its opponents in the country's third election in less than a year.

Exit polls on Israeli TV stations showed Likud and its allies capturing 59 seats out of the 120 in parliament. That would still put Likud and its ultra-religious and nationalist bloc two seats short of the parliamentary majority required to form a government.

With more than 90% of votes already counted, Mr. Netanyhau's bloc looked to be maintaining its lead. Final results are expected to be announced later Tuesday and could swing Mr. Netanyahu over the top – two weeks before he goes on trial to face corruption charges.

But if the official results match the exit polls, and Mr. Netanyahu's camp is unable to draw in defectors from the opposing camp, Israel's prolonged political gridlock could continue with the prospect of a fourth election.

The uncertainty didn't stop Mr. Netanyahu from declaring victory early Tuesday in front of a raucous crowd of supporters.

"This is a victory against all the odds, because we stood against powerful forces," he said. "They already eulogized us. Our opponents said the Netanyahu era is over."

He vowed to immediately begin work to form a new coalition and press forward with a hard-line agenda that includes annexing large parts of the West Bank – a step that would undermine any remaining hopes of establishing a Palestinian state. Mr. Netanyahu aide Jonathan Urich said efforts were already underway to recruit defecting lawmakers from the other bloc.

"I expect that fairly shortly we'll have the missing votes," he told Israel's Army Radio.

Regardless of the final outcome, the election seemed to mark a devastating setback for Benny Gantz's Blue and White party and its allies on the center-left, who had grand ambitions to topple Mr. Netanyahu after more than a decade in power. But with Blue and White party trailing Likud by several seats that option appears off the table. Infighting has already begun among the fragmented opposition, with various figures pointing the blame at Mr. Gantz for running a lackluster campaign.

Even with his path to the premiership seemingly blocked, Mr. Gantz vowed to carry on.

"We won't let anyone destroy the country. We won't let anyone separate between us. We won't let anyone dismantle Israeli society and crush democracy," he told supporters. "Even if it is difficult, we will win at its end."

Mr. Netanyahu's Likud looked set already to secure 36 seats to Mr. Gantz's Blue and White's 32, with Mr. Netanyahu's camp holding an overall edge of 59-54 to Mr. Gantz's center-left bloc.

Maverick politician Avigdor Lieberman, whose party is projected to win seven seats, once again looms as a key player. Speaking on Tuesday, he repeated his campaign pledge that there will not be a fourth election but wouldn't indicate how he would act in case of further deadlock.

After the last election in September, both Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz, a former military chief, were given opportunities to form coalitions and failed. With Likud projected to be the largest party, Mr. Netanyahu looked to get a first crack at assembling a coalition this time around.

"It's clear that Gantz and his bloc lost, but it is not clear that Netanyahu has a clear victory," explained Gideon Rahat, a Hebrew University professor and senior fellow at the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute. "It's either a unity government or he will find some defectors from the center-left that will go with him."

The easiest way out of the impasse would be a unity government between Likud and Blue and White, which together command a solid parliamentary majority. They don't have major ideological differences, though Blue and White has staked its claim as the moral alternative to Mr. Netanyahu amid his corruption charges.

Mr. Gantz has ruled out a partnership as long as Mr. Netanyahu remains in charge. After an ugly campaign marked by vicious and unfounded smears against him, Mr. Gantz doesn't appear likely to fold now.

Anti-Netanyahu forces in Israel could still eke out a narrow "blocking majority" and force yet another vote. But a weary public is largely against that option. Legal analysts also warn of a constitutional crisis amid a string of inconclusive elections, meaning that the option of a unity government may again be in the cards.

"After such a debased, lowdown, divisive campaign, replete with accusations and mud-slinging, we must mend our fences, heal the wounds, unify Israeli society," former Likud minister and Netanyahu critic Limor Livnat wrote in the Yediot Ahronot daily. "This is the only answer."

Mr. Netanyahu was indicted in November on charges of fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes, making him the first sitting prime minister to be charged with a crime. He denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a witch hunt by police, prosecutors, and a hostile media.

During the campaign, Mr. Netanyahu failed in a bid to secure immunity from prosecution. As prime minister, he could still rally public opposition against prosecutors and judges in the case. He also could seek other avenues to delay or derail the proceedings against him.

A unity government between Likud and Blue and White would likely force Mr. Netanyahu to drop these plans. It would also make Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, the formal leader of the opposition. His umbrella group of Arab-led parties scored its most impressive showing ever, becoming the third largest faction in parliament with a projected 15 seats.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Israeli election: Netanyahu leads but not enough yet to govern
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today