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Netanyahu’s Lead Narrows, Parties Mull Way to Break Impasse

Israel’s political stalemate continues unresolved, despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s claim of victory in Monday’s election – the third in less than a year. When voting ended on Monday at 10 pm local time, exit polls indicated that the bloc of right-wing and religious parties favoring Netanyahu comprised 59 Knesset members, leading the prime minister to declare victory. Support from at least 61 members of Israel’s 120-member parliament, the Knesset, is needed to form a new government. It was thought that Netanyahu could reach the goal by enticing two Knesset members from an opposition party to join the government. But with 99% of the votes now counted, it appears that Likud won only 35 seats, and the overall right-wing bloc only 58, making the path to 61 unclear. Meanwhile, the parties opposing Netanyahu appear to be too ideologically divided to form an alternative government, despite representing a 62-seat majority. These include the centrist Blue and White list; the leftist Labor-Gesher-Meretz list; the Joint List, an alliance of Arab-majority parties; and Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party. If no one can get to 61, the country may need to go to a fourth round of elections. But another possibility is being considered: The anti-Netanyahu bloc may pass legislation barring a Knesset member under indictment from serving as prime minister. This would disqualify Netanyahu, who has been indicted on three counts of corruption, from holding the office, forcing President Reuven Rivlin to task another MK with the job. Both Blue and White and Yisrael Beitenu have said that they would not sit in a government headed by Netanyahu while he’s on trial, but they have not ruled out joining a coalition with Likud under a different leader.