No clear winner in Israeli election, signaling more deadlock

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to his supporters after the first exit poll results for the Israeli parliamentary elections at his Likud party's headquarters in Jerusalem, Wednesday, March. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM – Israeli parliamentary elections on Tuesday resulted in a virtual deadlock for a fourth time in the past two years, exit polls indicated, leaving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with an uncertain future and the country facing the prospect of continued political gridlock.

The exit polls on Israel’s three main TV stations indicated that both Netanyahu and his religious and nationalist allies, along with a group of anti-Netanyahu parties, fell short of the parliamentary majority required to form a new government. That raised the possibility of an unprecedented fifth consecutive election later this year.

The election was seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s polarizing leadership, and the initial results showed the country remains as deeply divided as ever, with an array of small sectarian parties dominating the parliament.

The results also signaled a continuing shift of the Israeli electorate toward the right wing, which supports West Bank settlements and opposes concessions in peace talks with the Palestinians. That trend was highlighted by the strong showing of an ultranationalist anti-Arab religious party.

After three previous inconclusive elections, Netanyahu had been hoping for a decisive victory that would allow him to form a government with his traditional ultra-Orthodox and hard-line nationalist allies and seek immunity from corruption charges.

In an address to supporters early Wednesday, a subdued Netanyahu boasted of a “great achievement” but stopped short of declaring victory. Instead, he appeared to reach out to his opponents and called for formation of a “stable government” that would avoid another election.

“We must not under any circumstances drag the state of Israel to new elections, to a fifth election,” he said. "We must form a stable government now.”

Around 64% of the vote had been counted by early Wednesday, leaving the outcome underdetermined. A small Islamist party was hovering just below the threshold to enter parliament, and whether it made the cut could affect the distribution of pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs in the Knesset.