Another Israel election stalemate likely

Supporters of Israeli Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party react following the announcement of the exit polls in Israel's general elections at the party headquarters in Jerusalem

Israelis were voting Tuesday in their fourth election in less than two years, with the nation still divided over whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deserves to remain in power. The country's longest serving premier, however, may again struggle to form a governing majority.

In a bid to form a government coalition, Netanyahu talked over the phone with leaders of three right-wing parties that already vowed to join a coalition under his leadership.

"I don't have much hope".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's main rival, Yair Lapid, said Tuesday that he will try to form a government coalition amid another round of inconclusive election results.

"There are too many small parties, too much ego, they won't agree on anything", he told AFP.

Netanyahu has denied the allegation, or any personal involvement in prospective criminal immunity moves.

The prime minister has said he will not seek to block the trial and is looking forward to being exonerated, but critics suspect that if he earns a majority, he may seek parliamentary action to delay or end the process.

Even if Bennett's projected seven seats technically enable Netanyahu to cobble together a government, there is no guarantee the two will unite.

Yair Lapid leader of Israel's Yesh Atid party addresses supporters from his campaign headquarters in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv
Netanyahu Claims Israel Vote Win But Majority Uncertain

That means the bloc will send to parliament Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has voiced admiration for the mass-murderer of 29 Palestinian worshippers in Hebron in 1994, Baruch Goldstein.

Gantz, now the defence minister, is projected to win eight seats - beating expectations but still a sharp fall from a year ago when he was Netanyahu's main challenger.

With over 60% of the ballots scrutinized, the Likud is on the way to confirm itself as the leading party but the birth of the executive is hindered by Netanyahu's rivals and the right-wing blockade that opposes the hegemony of the Prime Minister, in power for over a decade. He shares Netanyahu's hard-line nationalist ideology and would seem to be more likely to ultimately join the prime minister.

The multi-millionaire former tech entrepreneur and one-time Netanyahu protege has fallen out with the prime minister and hammered him during the campaign, while not ruling out a reunion.

As it stands, Likud was projected to be the largest party with 30 seats, fewer than its current 36.

Should a hard-right government emerge, it would likely be at loggerheads with the Democratic administration of US President Joe Biden over issues such as Palestinian statehood and engagement by the United States with Israel's arch-enemy Iran over its nuclear program. But that arrangement fell apart late past year with the lack of agreement on a budget, triggering the new round of elections.

However, Netanyahu's coalition deal with Gantz last December, when he failed to pass a state budget and the Knesset automatically dissolved for these elections.

But their agreement called for Netanyahu to hand power to the centrist Gantz after 18 months, something observers correctly predicted he would never do. Instead, he appeared to reach out to his opponents and called for formation of a "stable government" that would avoid another election.

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