According to preliminary results, Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud has won 31 seats, while Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) has overtaken its rival by one seat. To secure a majority in the country's 120-seat legislature, a potential winner's coalition should gain at least 61 seats.
The Jerusalem Post foresees a potential stalemate, citing Channel 11, 12, and 13 exit polls, which gave Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc and the centre-left bloc of Kahol Lavan a total of 56 and 54 seats; 57 and 55; and 54 versus 58, respectively. However, as of yet neither has emerged as a clear winner, failing to pass the 61-seat majority coalition threshold.
"On 17 September, Israel went to the polls, which produced one clear result in the morning after. The Likud Party, which was in power since 2009, does not have 61 votes in the 120-member Knesset, [the] Israeli parliament", says Dr Oded Eran, a veteran Israeli diplomat and currently a senior researcher at the Tel Aviv Institute for National Security Studies.
According to the veteran diplomat, to evade a deadlock the two large blocs, led by Likud and Kahol Lavan, may form a "national unity government". However, this scenario could spell an end to Netanyahu's prime ministership, as "Blue and White vowed not to be in a coalition with Netanyahu as prime minister", Eran specifies.
On 18 September, Gantz pledged to form a broad, national unity government with Labor-Gesher, Yisrael Beytenu, and a post-Netanyahu Likud.
Brigadier General Dr Meir Elran from Israel's Institute for National Security Studies echoes Eran's concerns, suggesting that "it will take time, probably weeks, before we know what's going to happen in terms of who actually won the election".
"The problem is that the natural option of the campaign for election usually results in A-party and A-leader of one party to assume power shortly after the election", he notes. "This is not going to be the case here in Israel. Because of the strategic ties between the two major parties and furthermore between the two blocs, the right or the left or, which is more accurate presently, between pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu blocs".
Israelis Voted, What Next?
The Israeli observers have outlined several probable scenarios of how the situation may unfold in the coming days.
Eran Etzion, an Israeli diplomat and strategist who was head of policy planning at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and deputy head of the National Security Council in the Prime Minister's Office, does not rule out that Netanyahu will finally manage to form a 61-seat majority, being supported by "his old partner Avigdor Lieberman, who, despite multiple times of not joining Netanyahu, is very probably going to do the opposite".
However, if Netanyahu is not prime minister and is not able to form a coalition, there’re multiple scenarios again, according to the strategist:
• "We may even see another round of elections, as unimaginable as it may sound. Nobody predicted a second round in 2019, and we might have a third round; it would be early 2020, if nobody is able to form a coalition, not only Netanyahu but also Gantz or anyone else".
• "We may see some other unprecedented scenarios, in which there is a third candidate which gains a 61 majority".
• "And we may very well see a so-called unity government between the two major parties, Likud led by somebody else rather than Netanyahu and Blue and White; this will entail the replacement of Netanyahu by somebody else under heavy pressure from within, which is unlikely but possible", Etzion underscores.
Still, even if Netanyahu succeeds in establishing a viable bloc, he will be "essentially squeezed, not to say blackmailed, by his future coalition partners", he predicts.
Brig. Gen. Elran shares a similar stance: according to him, Likud's leader "will have to opt for a coalition which will restrain his capacity to forward his agenda".
There is yet another problem that haunts Netanyahu, the Israeli experts note: during the upcoming 3 October hearing, Israel's attorney general will decide whether to indict the long-time prime minister for three cases of alleged corruption.
"The two rounds of elections in Israel, that in April and that in September, were centred on Netanyahu - can and will he be able to form a coalition of at least 61 seats which will grant him immunity against a pending indictment by the State Attorney-General?" Dr Oded Eran explains.
According to Brig. Gen. Elran, the looming hearing weakens Netanyahu's positions as "some of the political parties made it clear that this will not enable him to stay as a prime minister".
Unity Gov't May Boost Ties With EU & US Reformist Jewish Community
The new government's general political course will depend on who will be at the helm, says Eran Etzion. If it is Netanyahu, one may expect a more assertive stance towards the Palestinians and possible "annexation of important chunks of the West Bank, including Jordan Valley, including at least some of the major settlement blocks if not, perhaps, even all the settlements", the Israeli strategist suggests. As for Iran, Syria, and other international issues it will be "more of the same", he believes.
For his part, Dr Oded Eran foresees certain changes in the Israeli strategy in case a national unity government is "indeed formed" and Netanyahu is out. Under this scenario, the power of right-wing and orthodox religious parties would be reduced, leading to an improvement of relations between Israel and the US reformist Jewish community as well as with the EU leadership, he observes.
According to Eran, a change of leadership may also influence:
· the content and timing of publication of Trump's deal of the century;
· whether Israel and the US will continue to discuss a defence pact;
· whether there will be a different Israeli position towards the JCPOA - the nuclear deal with Iran - as in the leadership of Blue and White, there are several ex-army chiefs who in the past opposed an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear installations, he emphasises.
He expects that the understanding between Russia and Israel concerning Syria will remain in force, adding that this is also true for Israel's relations with Egypt and Jordan. As for the pressing Palestinian issue, Likud's "push for annexing to Israeli parts of the West Bank will be weakened", Eran presumes.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.