Results show an Israel split in half

Thu, Jan 24, 2013, 00:00

With 99 per cent of the votes counted, Israel has emerged from Tuesday’s election as a nation split down the middle.

The right-wing and religious parties won exactly 60 seats in the 120-seat Knesset parliament , as did the combined centre, left and Arab parties.

Today the votes of soldiers will be counted and may well tip the final balance 61-59 in favour of the right.

Despite the fact that prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Beiteinu lost a quarter of its seats to new centrist and right-wing parties, Mr Netanyahu is almost certain to be chosen by President Shimon Peres next week to form the next government.

The centre-left bloc draws 12 of its parliamentary seats from Arab parties that traditionally have neither been asked nor sought to join coalitions, and there is no obvious candidate from the centre-left to become prime minister.

The main question is what kind of coalition Mr Netanyahu will form.

The senior coalition partner will have to be Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party, which won a stunning 19 seats. Mr Lapid’s new political leverage could produce a more moderate Israeli government, but it is not clear if that would be enough to end the paralysis in Middle East peace efforts

Speaking to party supporters Mr Lapid said: “Israelis today said no to extremism and no to anti-democratic policies.”

Speaking at a press conference yesterday Mr Netanyahu stressed the need for a broad-based government and appeared to reach out to Mr Lapid, emphasising three areas for change which were also top priorities for Mr Lapid .

“We received a clear message from the public which wants me to continue leading the country,” Mr Netanyahu said. “The public wants me to form a government that will instill three internal changes – an equal share of the burden, attainable housing and changes in the electoral system.”

Mr Netanyahu’s second natural coalition partner is the far-right Jewish Home, headed by Naftali Bennett.

Likud Beiteinu, Yesh Atid and Jewish Home combined would give Mr Netanyahu a coalition of 61 seats , a wafer-thin majority. However, he would naturally want to broaden the coalition with other religious or centrist parties.

The wheeling and dealing could take up to a month .