With All Votes Counted in Israel, Netanyahu Is Still Weakened

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JERUSALEM -- The final ballots in Israel's national elections were tallied on Thursday, giving a right-wing religious party one more seat in Parliament and the Arab-dominated parties one fewer, but the result did nothing to alter the political shift that weakened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and left him scrambling to form a stable coalition.

Mr. Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu ticket had 31 of 120 Parliament seats, while the new, centrist Yesh Atid Party led by Yair Lapid -- a former celebrity journalist and first-time candidate -- held its second-place finish with 19. Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lapid have already begun negotiations over forming a governing coalition.

While the new tally, fed mostly by votes of active-duty soldiers, gives a slim majority to Mr. Netanyahu's current coalition of right-wing and religious factions, those close to the prime minister say he wants to build a broader government, starting with Mr. Lapid's Yesh Atid, Hebrew for There is a Future.

The likeliest candidates to join that coalition are Habayit Hayehudi -- the Jewish Home -- the rightist faction whose total grew to 12 from 11 with the soldiers' votes, and Kadima, another centrist party, which has two seats. Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister who quit Kadima and started another new party, Hatnua, which won six seats, is also a possibility, though she has an opposite view on the Palestinian conflict from Habayit Hayehudi. What remains unclear is whether Mr. Netanyahu will push to continue his alliance with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which has 11 seats, given Mr. Lapid's strong desire to curtail the draft exemptions for thousands of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students -- exemptions that Shas has long sought to protect.

Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lapid have both indicated that making the ultra-Orthodox "share the burden" -- in military service as well as taxes and other aspects of society -- would be a foundational goal of the new government. The other priorities they mentioned were affordable housing and government reform, including a reduction in the number of ministers.

On Thursday, Shai Piron, a rabbi who was elected to Parliament as No. 2 behind Mr. Lapid on Yesh Atid's list, said coalition negotiations had not officially started, but "everyone is holding talks to feel each other out."

"Matters are very simple, very," Rabbi Piron said on Israel Radio. "Without an equal sharing of the burden, in the simplest sense of the word, without compromise, without games, without a great reduction in the number of ministers and canceling the ministers without portfolio and without peace negotiations, we will not join the government."


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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