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March 24, 2021 8:08 am

Israeli Elections 2021: With Most Votes Counted, Arab Party Ra’am Poised to Play Key Role as Netanyahu’s Advantage Slips Away

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech to supporters following the announcement of exit polls in Israel’s general election at his Likud party headquarters in Jerusalem, March 24, 2021. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

With 87% of the vote counted in Israel’s 2021 elections, the political ground appeared to shift on Wednesday, with Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party falling from the position of kingmaker and the Arab party Ra’am emerging as a possible decisive force.

Israel’s Channel 12 reported that the “pro-Netanyahu” bloc of parties has fallen from 56 seats to 52, while the “anti-Netanyahu” bloc — a diverse group of parties that seek to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — dropped slightly to 56 mandates.

Netanyahu’s Likud party won 30 seats, Yair Lapid’s opposition Yesh Atid 18, and the religious parties Shas and Yehadut HaTorah 9 and 7, respectively. The results show Benny Gantz’s Blue and White with 8, Labor with 7, and Yisrael Beiteinu, the Joint List, New Hope, and Religious Zionism with 6 apiece, with Meretz winning 5.

Crucially, the Yamina party received 7 seats, while Ra’am is now slated to win 5 — despite appearing to fall below the threshold to enter the Knesset during much of Tuesday night.

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Initial exit polls Tuesday showed Yamina’s Bennett set to play kingmaker, with his party’s 7 seats able to swing the balance between the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs. Now, however, those seats would not be enough to give Netanyahu a majority to form a government.

However, if both Ra’am and Yamina join with Netanyahu, he would have such a majority. By the same token, if either or both of them joined the anti-Netanyahu bloc, it would theoretically be able to form a government, although such a coalition forming is unlikely.

Even with most results in, they appear close enough that it remains possible the map will continue to change as the final ballots are counted.

Both blocs have to some extent declared victory, with Netanyahu pledging to form a right-wing government but leaving his options open.

He said, “we must not in any way drag Israel into a fifth election,” and that he would reach out “to all members of Knesset who believe in these principles. I do not rule anyone out.”

Lapid has also said he will seek to form a government via his “change bloc.” Lapid’s potential partner, New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, said, “We will do everything to establish a sane government in the State of Israel.”

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