Final vote results show major setback for Israel's Netanyahu

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Workers count votes in Israel's national elections wearing and divided in groups by sheets of plastic masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Thursday, March 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies fell short of winning a parliamentary majority in Israel’s latest election, according to a final vote count released Thursday, leaving a political deadlock that put the long-time leader’s future in question.

The fourth election in just two years brought a stinging rebuke for Netanyahu, the most dominant figure in Israeli politics in a generation. Adding to the pain, he lost ground to former partners who vowed never to sit in a government with him again.

Under Israel’s fragmented political system, Netanyahu could still try to reach across the aisle and cobble together a governing coalition. But the makeup of the new parliament will make that extremely difficult, giving his opponents the upper hand in coalition talks. It's also quite possible Israel will go into a fifth election later this year.

“It is clear that Netanyahu does not have a majority to form a government under his leadership,” said Gideon Saar, one of the former Netanyahu allies who now oppose him. “Action must now be taken to realize the possibility of forming a government for change.”

In order to form a government, a candidate must work with allied partners to secure a 61-seat majority in the Knesset, or parliament.

According to the final results released by Israel’s election commission, Netanyahu and his allies captured 52 seats, compared to 57 held by his opponents.

In the middle were two undecided parties: Yamina, a seven-seat nationalist party headed by a former Netanyahu lieutenant, and Raam, an Arab Islamist party that won four seats.

Neither Naftali Bennett of Yamina nor Mansour Abbas of Raam has committed to either camp. Yet deep divisions in both the pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu blocs could make it difficult for either side to secure a majority with them.