99% Of Votes Counted, Right Wing-bloc Has 58 Seats, Officials Count “Isolation Votes” Covered From Head To Toe

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About 99% of the votes from Israel’s elections for 23rd Knesset have been counted and Central Elections Committee Director General Orly Ades said final but unofficial results will be announced on Wednesday evening between 7 and 8 p.m.

Currently, the right-wing bloc under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has 58 seats. Likud has 36 seats, Shas – 9, United Torah Judaism – 7, and Yamina – 6.

Blue and White have 33 seats, Arab Joint List – 15, Labor-Gesher-Meretz – 7, and Yisrael Beiteinu – 7.

Official results will only be announced on Monday after the votes from 25 polling stations where voting irregularities were reported are recounted but it is not believed that the recount will result in changes to the number of seats.

The “double envelope” ballots of about 300,000 soldiers, medical staff and patients in hospitals, prisoners, disabled people, and diplomats abroad were counted by early Wednesday morning and about 4,000 ballots of quarantined voters will be counted by Wednesday afternoon.

Senior Central Election Committee officials, the only employees who would agree to count the “coronavirus” ballots, will be covered from head to toe with protective clothing while counting the ballots.

Even if Netanyahu falls short of a majority, he appears to hold the upper hand as rival political camps try to end the deadlock that has paralyzed the political system for over a year.

Moving quickly, Netanyahu met Tuesday with his smaller allies to try to project business as usual. Likud said the various parties agreed to remain together as an alliance but also left the door open to other partners.

Yonatan Orich, a Netanyahu aide, said Likud was already working to poach defecting lawmakers from the opposition. “I expect that fairly shortly we’ll have the missing votes,” he told Israel’s Army Radio. However, all of the potential defectors have denied they would make such a dramatic step.

The Blue and White leadership has made it clear that a unity government with Netanyahu is out of the question because of the criminal charges of corruption against the prime minister.

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, and himself a former lawmaker, said persuading opponents to defect would not be easy. Lawmakers who switch sides can face sanctions and the resulting coalition would likely be narrow and unstable.

“Netanyahu’s path to introducing a new government is not that clear and is not secure,” Plesner said.

Although Netanyahu’s opponents together are projected to hold a 62-seat majority, they are deeply divided and unlikely to cooperate. They include the predominantly Arab Joint List and the secular nationalist faction led by Avigdor Liberman, who has ruled out any alliance with Arab politicians.

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh has announced a series of conditions for him to back Gantz as an alternative candidate and made it clear that aligning with Liberman was out of the question.

“The Joint List won’t allow the racist Avigdor Liberman to become a minister,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.

It’s unclear if Netanyahu can capitalize on the division among his rivals.

Gantz and other anti-Netanyahu forces could still eke out a narrow “blocking majority” and force yet another election. But a weary public is largely against that option.

Netanyahu is eager to form a government before his trial begins March 17.

He has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes for his actions in a series of scandals that included accepting lavish gifts from wealthy friends, and allegedly offering favors to media moguls in exchange for positive press coverage. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing.

The timing of the trial could complicate the formation of the next government.

Under Israeli law, the president is responsible for designating a prime minister, choosing the candidate deemed to have the best chance of forming a coalition after several days of consultations with the various political parties.

His choice is usually, but not always, the leader of the largest party. President Reuven Rivlin’s office said he would begin the consultation process on March 10, meaning his decision on a prime minister-designate could come just as Netanyahu’s trial is beginning.

While there is nothing legally to prevent him from tapping Netanyahu, the optics of choosing a politician on trial for alleged corruption could create some discomfort.

The Supreme Court also is expected to be asked to look at the question of whether an indicted politician is even allowed to form a coalition government, adding another potential obstacle to the process.

Addressing his supporters early Tuesday, Netanyahu made no mention of his legal woes. Instead, he declared a “huge victory” and vowed to press ahead with his hard-line agenda. That includes annexing large parts of Judea and Samaria — a step that would antagonize much of the international community and undermine any remaining hopes of establishing a Palestinian state.

Regardless of the final outcome, the election seemed to mark a devastating setback for Gantz’s Blue and White party and its allies on the center-left, who had grand ambitions to topple Netanyahu after more than a decade in power.

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Liberman, whose party is projected to win seven seats, once again looms as a key player. Speaking Tuesday, he repeated his campaign pledge that there won’t be a fourth election but gave no indication which side he would support.

The Joint List, an alliance of Arab-led parties, also emerged as a major player.

The party is projected to control 15 seats, which would make it the third-largest faction in parliament and position its head, Ayman Odeh, to be the opposition leader if Gantz and Netanyahu form a unity government. It would be the first time an Arab politician would hold the position.

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem & AP)