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Final election results confirm deadlock, offering no clear path to coalition

Central Elections Committee delivers result, which means neither Netanyahu nor his rivals have straightforward Knesset majority and possibly heralds 5th vote in 2.5 years

Party leaders in Israel's March 23, 2021 elections. Top row left to right: Itamar Ben Gvir (Otzma Yehudit, part of the Religious Zionism party); Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism); Naftali Bennett (Yamina); Aryeh Deri (Shas); Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism). Middle row left to right: Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu); Gideon Sa'ar (New Hope); Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud); Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid); Merav Michaeli (Labor). Bottom row left to right: Benny Gantz (Blue and White); Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz); Ayman Odeh (Joint List); Mansour Abbas (Ra'am); Yaron Zelekha (New Economy party). (All photos: Flash90)
Party leaders in Israel's March 23, 2021 elections. Top row left to right: Itamar Ben Gvir (Otzma Yehudit, part of the Religious Zionism party); Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism); Naftali Bennett (Yamina); Aryeh Deri (Shas); Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism). Middle row left to right: Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu); Gideon Sa'ar (New Hope); Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud); Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid); Merav Michaeli (Labor). Bottom row left to right: Benny Gantz (Blue and White); Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz); Ayman Odeh (Joint List); Mansour Abbas (Ra'am); Yaron Zelekha (New Economy party). (All photos: Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.

High Court rules Netanyahu must abide by conflict of interest opinion

The High Court has ruled that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must abide by conflict of interest rules laid out by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Netanyahu has said he is not bound by the opinion drawn up by Mandelblit, which clips his wings on appointments of senior law enforcement and justice officials due to his criminal trial.

Under Mandelblit’s arrangement, Netanyahu cannot be involved in any matters that affect witnesses or other defendants in his trial, or legislation that would impact the legal proceedings against him. He cannot intervene in matters related to the status of several top police and prosecution officials, in several fields under the responsibility of the Communications Ministry, or in the Judicial Appointments Committee, which appoints judges to the Jerusalem District Court — where his trial is being conducted — and to the Supreme Court, which would hear any appeals in the case.

The petition to the court had revolved around the appointment of Amit Isman as state prosecutor by Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, which had been opposed by Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who was acting as a stand-in for Netanyahu and refusing to bring the appointment up for a vote.

Elections chief says vote count to be finalized in coming hours

Central Elections Committee head Orly Adas tells Hebrew media that she expects the tallying of votes to wrap up in the coming hours.

She tells Army Radio that over a third of the approximately 450,000 absentee ballots remaining have already been tallied and the rest should be done by the afternoon.

The ballots, which were inside a double envelope to verify there is no double voting, take longer to count than normal ballots. And due to the pandemic, there are more such ballots than ever before.

“What’s really delaying the publication of the results is the process of checking and verification to look for anomalies, which has expanded over the last three elections,” Adas says.

“The process [of publishing results] is lengthy, but it won’t be right before Shabbat, it will be earlier,” she tells 103FM.

 

Court says Ohana not bound by rules binding PM, but cannot discuss picks with him

More from the court ruling backing up a conflict of interest position drawn up by the attorney general about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: While the three-judge panel accepted the heart of the petition from the Movement for Quality Government to force Netanyahu to abide by the opinion, the judges rejected a request to have the opinion apply as well to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who has acted as Netanyahu’s surrogate.

However, the court did say Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit should inform Ohana and other ministers in a position to appoint officials that could have an effect on Netanyahu’s criminal trial to not speak to the premier about those matters.

“A situation in which there is a sitting prime minister under indictment for serious crimes involving personal integrity is an extraordinary situation that requires extra oversight over the matter of forbidding those in public positions from finding themselves in a conflict of interest,” the ruling reads.

 

Nazareth mayor confident parties will drop opposition to joining Ra’am

Nazareth mayor Ali Salam, who is in touch with Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas, tells Army Radio that he doesn’t buy all the big talk from parties saying they will refuse to join a coalition with the Islamist faction.

Nazareth mayor Ali Salam appears at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, January 30, 2014. (Flash90)

“Everyone can say they won’t sit with Abbas, but I’ve learned that what’s said in the media is not what is said in closed conference rooms. I’m sure a government will form, Mansour Abbas will be in it, and the Arab community will get everything it demands,” he says.

Ex-deputy minister Kirschenbaum guilty on bribery, money laundering charges

Faina Kirschenbaum, a former deputy minister for the Yisrael Beytenu party, has been convicted on bribery charges for arranging for various bodies to receive government funding in return for kickbacks and payoffs.

The Tel Aviv District Court finds Kirschenbaum guilty of bribery, tax offenses, money laundering, fraud and breach of trust.

Former deputy minister Faina Kirschenbaum, right, and David Godovsky, former head of the Yisrael Beytenu headquarters, attend a court hearing at the Tel Aviv District Court, March 19, 2018. (Flash90)

Kirschenbaum is a central figure in a far-reaching corruption investigation into the Yisrael Beytenu party. She was elected to the Knesset in 2009 and served as deputy interior minister from 2013 to 2015.

Kirshenbaum took bribes in a “systematic, cunning and sophisticated” manner over six years from eight separate, unconnected sources, Judge Yaron Levy says.

She “skillfully developed an endless variety of ways and excuses to circumvent the rules of proper administration and use public money as if it were her own,” he adds.

Poland announces record number of COVID cases for second day running

Poland has reported a record daily number of new coronavirus cases for the second day in a row as the prime minister prepares to give details of harsher restrictions for the Easter period.

Poland’s Health Ministry reports over 34,000 new confirmed cases on Thursday, thousands more than the nearly 30,000 cases that set a daily record on Wednesday. Poland also registered 520 more virus-related deaths.

In Poland, officials say this “third wave” of the pandemic is driven by the highly contagious virus variant first detected in Britain. The country’s vaccine rollout is proceeding too slowly to hold back the latest surge in infections.

The higher numbers also come as the government has made it easier for people to get tested for COVID-19, dropping its earlier requirement for a doctor’s referral and allowing people to request a test online.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is set to announce Thursday the details of new restrictions for the week before and the week after Easter, which falls on April 4.

The annual March of the Living, which would normally be in Poland early next month for Yom Hashoah, is being held virtually for the second time in a row this year due to the pandemic.

Gantz urges anti-Netanyahu parties to rally together after High Court ruling

Interim Justice Minister Benny Gantz says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “up to his neck” in conflict of interests, after the High Court rules the premier must abide by an opinion banning him from having any say in the appointment of senior justice or law enforcement officials due to his criminal indictments.

“His refusal to appoint a state prosecutor and sitting justice minister prove how troubling his term as prime minister is,” Gantz says in a statement. “I very much hope all the parties of the [pro-]change bloc will understand that and unite to replace him.”

Gantz led the anti-Netanyahu bloc in the 2020 election, but ended up joining Netanyahu and creating a government which saw seven months of deadlock and dysfunction, including Likud trying to stymie attempts by former justice minister Avi Nissenkorn to appoint a new prosecutor, necessitating the conflict of interest ruling.

Pro-Likud activists plan pressure campaign on New Hope, others to switch sides

Pro-Netanyahu activists are reportedly gearing up for what is being described as a massive campaign designed to pressure right-wing parties to join a Likud-led government coalition.

Right-wing parties New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu are both in the replace-Netanyahu bloc and Yamina is also considering signing on, joining forces with center-left and Arab factions to oust the premier.

But Likud is hoping to convince them to switch sides and rejoin Netanyahu, despite promises from New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar and Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman not to do so.

“The protests outside [the Prime Minister’s Residence] at Balfour are nothing compared to what will be outside their homes and synagogues,” an activist involved in the campaign tells Ynet. “This is something at a level they haven’t seen.”

New Hope politician Zeev Elkin, a former Likud stalwart, confirms reports that Likud has sent representatives to party leaders to offer the top ministries, but tells Army Radio they were turned down.

He says it is up to Yamina’s Naftali Bennett, indicating that the rest of the bloc is already set.

Rights groups petition High Court, demanding Israel hand Palestinians vaccines

Six Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations have petitioned the High Court of Justice, demanding that Israel take immediate steps to ensure regular supply of vaccines to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

The petitioners also demand that the state transfer its surplus vaccines to the Palestinians “immediately.”

The organizations behind the petition are Physicians for Human Rights Israel; HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual; Al Mezan Center for Human Rights; Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement; Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; and Rabbis for Human Rights.

They cite the skyrocketing COVID-19 infections among Palestinians while Israel, where most have been inoculated, enjoys a steep drop in morbidity.

“The respondents’ current policy and their failure to ensure that the entire population is vaccinated violates Palestinian inhabitants’ basic rights to life and bodily integrity, and represents an ongoing injustice,” write the petitioners. “Evidently, the Palestinian Authority has an insufficient number of vaccines, whereas in what is practically the same area, the population of Israeli citizens and residents is almost fully vaccinated, apart from those who decline it.”

No changes as 97% of votes counted, including two-thirds of absentee ballots

The Central Elections Committee says that about two-thirds of the absentee ballots, 281,000, have been tallied.

It adds tens of thousands more votes to the results, causing no changes in the seat distribution, which currently features no obvious path to a coalition.

Some 97% of the total ballots have been tallied.

Virus czar says Israelis may soon no longer need to wear masks outdoors

As COVID-19 cases continue to decline and the rate of positive tests reaches the lowest point since last June, the official in charge of the government’s pandemic response, Nachman Ash, says Israel may soon relax its strict rules requiring face masks in all public places, including outdoors.

Ash tells the Ynet news site that while Israel is doing very well, it still hasn’t vanquished the virus.

“We aren’t yet taking off the masks, neither outside nor inside,” he says. “I hope that soon we will sit down and think and see how we can give the precise instruction. I assess we’ll do that in the near future. If we decide to cancel the mandatory mask-wearing, it will most likely only be outside.”

Senior Hamas official Omar Barghouti dies of COVID-19

One of the top Hamas figures in the West Bank, Omar Barghouti, has died of COVID-19 at the age of 67, media reports say.

Barghouti — not to be confused with the BDS founder who has the same name — was diagnosed with the virus several days ago and his condition deteriorated quickly.

A longtime operative for the Palestinian terror group, Barghouti served a total of 27 years in Israeli prison, 13 of which were under administrative detention. He was convicted over the murder of an Israeli in 1978, but was released after seven years in a prisoner swap deal. He was later arrested many times and jailed for other terror offenses.

Two of his sons murdered Israelis — including an unborn child — in several terror attacks in recent years.

New US jobless claims drop below 700,000 for 1st time since pandemic began

New filings for regular unemployment benefits in the United States dropped to 684,000 last week, the government says, their first reading below 700,000 since the pandemic sparked mass layoffs.

The result is much better than analysts forecast and comes as COVID-19 vaccinations offer hope the economy can recover this year — but in a sign of the virus’s ongoing toll, 241,745 new claims were received in the week ended March 20 under a special program for freelance workers, the Labor Department says.

All absentee ballots have been tallied; CEC head predicts no big changes

The Central Elections Committee says it is done with tallying all the absentee ballots, and that the results are being checked and will then be updated, in what would be near-final results, Hebrew media reports.

CEC director Orly Adas is said to say she doesn’t believe the remaining votes will make a significant change in the seat distribution.

How the remaining votes could alter the Knesset makeup

The Central Elections Committee adds more ballots to the count, with 98.5% of votes now tallied but no further changes in the Knesset seat distribution.

According to the current results, there are several main possibilities of changes the remaining ballots could cause.

The most likely is Netanyahu’s Likud gaining a seat at the expense of Shas, which wouldn’t affect the blocs. Other changes that wouldn’t change the blocs significantly are Meretz losing a seat to Labor and Yesh Atid getting a seat from the Joint List.

Another possibility is Likud taking a seat from the Joint List, give the premier 60 seats and robbing the anti-Netanyahu bloc of its current majority it can potentially use to pass laws disqualifying the premier and other criminal defendants from forming another government.

Another is Yamina gaining a seat at New Hope’s expense, which would take a seat from the anti-Netanyahu bloc and give it to a party that hasn’t committed to either side.

TV network claims no further changes in election results possible

Channel 12 news is claiming enough votes have now been tallied so that no further changes in the Knesset makeup are possible, although no other outlet is saying this for now.

The official results are still missing some 70,000 votes, leaving plenty of room for potential changes.

Sa’ar says ‘clear’ Netanyahu lacks majority, calls for ‘government of change’

As Likud allies start to pressure him to join Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bloc, New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar says all the options for creating an anti-Netanyahu coalition must first be exhausted.

“It is clear that Netanyahu doesn’t have a majority for a coalition headed by him,” Sa’ar says in a statement.

“Now we must work to fulfil the potential for forming a government of change. As I announced on election night, ego won’t be a factor.”

With 99.5% of votes tallied, Netanyahu lacks Knesset majority

According to the official results based on 99.5% of total votes, Prime Minister Netanyahu lacks a clear path to a coalition, as does everyone else.

No changes are made to the Knesset makeup by the update, and with just 20,000 votes left, it is likely that they won’t change further.

Man dies in fire at his home in Kiryat Gat

A man has been found dead in his apartment following a fire in his Kiryat Gat home.

Medics have found the body and rescued a woman from another apartment in the upper floors of the same building.

They are searching for more people who may be trapped in the building.

Iran said to hit Israeli ship with missile in Arabian Sea

Iran reportedly fired a missile recently at an Israeli-owned ship, hitting it and causing damage, Hebrew media outlets report.

The reports say the container ship was on its way from Tanzania to India, and that the incident happened when it was in the Arabian Sea, between India and Iran.

The incident was reported to Israel’s security establishment and to the owners of the Haifa-based ship company, according to the reports.

The ship will continue to India and will undergo damage assessment.

No further changes to Knesset blocs appear possible; no clear path to any coalition

With 4,429,518 total votes tallied — more than the original estimated turnout, which appears to have been an undercount — there are no changes in the results, and no candidate has an obvious path to the premiership.

According to statements from today by the Central Elections Committee, it appears that there are no more than 10,000 votes left to count, meaning further changes in the Knesset makeup are highly unlikely.

The only possible change is Meretz losing a seat to Labor, which wouldn’t change the blocs — but even that change would require a swing of over 900 votes.

Navalny in ‘strong’ pain, team fears for his life — lawyer

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in a class cage during a hearing in the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, February 2, 2021. (Moscow City Court via AP)
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in a class cage during a hearing in the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, February 2, 2021. (Moscow City Court via AP)

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is in great pain, his lawyer says after visiting him in prison, adding that allies are afraid for his life.

“He is suffering from strong back pain and pain in his right leg,” lawyer Olga Mikhailova says in remarks on Dozhd television.

“Everyone is afraid for his life and health.”

Labor head says she’ll meet Lapid today in push to form anti-Netanyahu coalition

Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid, left, speaking with Labor MK Merav Michaeli during a plenum session in the Knesset on June 5, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid, left, speaking with Labor MK Merav Michaeli during a plenum session in the Knesset on June 5, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli says she will meet Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid this evening in talks aimed at cobbling together an anti-Netanyahu bloc or coalition.

“I’m meeting Lapid this evening, and I have spoken with other party heads, including [Gideon] Sa’ar,” Michaeli tells Army Radio, referring to the New Hope leader.

“I am looking for every way to assemble a government of change.”

Likud breaks silence, calls anti-Netanyahu bloc ‘anti-democratic’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party makes its first statement since election night, calling a potential anti-Netanyahu bloc aiming to disqualify him as premier “anti-democratic.”

Parties that have vowed not to join a Netanyahu government, plus the Islamist Ra’am, together hold a 61-strong Knesset majority that could pass a law barring criminal defendants from forming a government, attempting to oust Netanyahu.

MK Avigdor Liberman has publicly supported such a move, saying in a statement that he’ll do “everything” to prevent fifth elections, and the “first” step in that would be passing such a law. He calls on all “sides hoping for a change” will support it.

“But Likud, in its statement, says: “A ‘bloc of change’ is a whitewashed term for an anti-democratic bloc. The only change they really want is to bring laws existing only in Iran to rule out candidates and cancel the choice of over a million citizens.”

Ben-Gvir: Coalition with Ra’am would limit Israel’s ability to act in Gaza

Far-right extremist lawmaker-to-be Itamar Ben-Gvir further sinks the prospects of forming a coalition with the Islamist Ra’am party, telling the Kan public broadcaster that such a coalition would have “no hope.”

“If tomorrow [Palestinian terrorists] slaughter at a kindergarten in Sderot, the prime minister will have to get an approval from [Ra’am chairman Mansour] Abbas and the rest of his party members to launch counter-operations in Gaza,” Ben-Gvir says.

“That’s not a real option.”

Likud MK says legislating Netanyahu out would tar Israel’s democratic image

Continuing a media blitz against efforts to legislate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of office based on his criminal trial, Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar says passing personal laws would tar Israel’s democratic image for generations.

“It would work against us and present us in the world as a dark regime,” he says. “In a democracy, only the public decides who it elects to lead the country.”

Steven Spielberg to donate Genesis Prize winnings to racial justice groups

Director Steven Spielberg speaks at the Academy Awards in Hollywood, February 9, 2020. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images via JTA)
Director Steven Spielberg speaks at the Academy Awards in Hollywood, February 9, 2020. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images via JTA)

Steven Spielberg is donating his Genesis Prize earnings to Jewish and non-Jewish groups working to promote racial and economic justice.

The prize’s foundation announces that the US film director will double the $1 million prize with his own money and split it among 10 organizations, including Black Voters Matter and the Jews of Color Initiative.

“Judaism and Jewish history begin with two narratives: Genesis and Exodus, stories about creation and liberation from oppression, about the discovery of the moral voice and of human dignity,” Spielberg says in a statement. “From these accounts come the ethical precepts commanding us to work for a more just and equitable world.”

Spielberg says “America is facing a crisis,” referring to the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the racial justice protests that roiled the country last year.

The other groups which will receive the money are Avodah, a Jewish group that takes on “our country’s most pressing social and economic issues”; the Collaborative for Jewish Organizing; Dayenu – A Jewish Call to Climate Action; Justice for Migrant Women; the National Domestic Workers Alliance; the Native American Rights Fund; One Fair Wage; and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the movement’s activism wing. Many of these are pledged to pushing back efforts by state-level Republican legislators to roll back voting rights.

Black Voters Matter is aligned with the Black Lives Matter organization, which has taken in criticism from parts of the Jewish community for an Israel platform from 2016. It has since amended its policy platform.

The award, nicknamed “The Jewish Nobel,” honors “extraordinary individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity, and commitment to Jewish values.” All past recipients, including Michael Douglas, Michael Bloomberg, Natalie Portman and Natan Sharansky, have donated their winnings to philanthropic causes.

Renewing US aid to Palestinians, Biden administration to send $15m in COVID aid

US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield at UN Headquarters in New York, on March 1, 2021. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)
US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield at UN Headquarters in New York, on March 1, 2021. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield announces that Washington will be sending $15 million in COVID-related humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, in what will be the first such funds transferred under the Biden administration, which has vowed to restore financial assistance to the Palestinians.

“With this assistance, the US Agency for International Development is supporting Catholic Relief Services’ COVID-19 response efforts in healthcare facilities and for vulnerable families in the West Bank and Gaza,” Thomas-Greenfield says in an address to the UN Security Council’s monthly briefing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, her first as envoy. “In addition, this assistance will support emergency food assistance programming to communities facing food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“This urgent, necessary aid is one piece of our renewed commitment to the Palestinian people. The aid will help Palestinians in dire need, which will bring more stability and security to both Israelis and Palestinians alike. That’s consistent with our interests and our values, and it aligns with our efforts to stamp out the pandemic and food insecurity worldwide,” she adds.

Plans to send the aid package were first reported earlier this month by The National, which retrieved an internal Biden administration memo outlining its initial policy approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Thomas-Greenfield also uses the opportunity to address what she views as the Security Council’s disproportionate focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There are other issues in the region that are threats to international peace and security and deserve more of this council’s attention,” she says.

Labor, Yesh Atid chiefs meet, discuss options to form ‘coalition of change’

The Labor and Yesh Atid parties say in a joint statement that their leaders, Merav Michaeli and Yair Lapid, have met and discussed “possible collaborations to assemble a coalition of change and replace Netanyahu’s rule.”

The statement says both leaders agreed to hold further talks down the road.

Netanyahu said to form team seeking to disqualify Joint List votes, win Likud an extra seat

Prime Minister Netanyahu has reportedly formed a team that will search for potential mistakes and problems with votes for the Joint List, seeking to win a seat for the Likud party at the Arab party’s expense and shift the Knesset balance in his favor.

Currently, the Joint List has a buffer of some 2,650 votes, below which it loses its 6th seat.

The team, Likud sources say, is made up of Likud MK Amit Halevi, Religious Zionism MK-to-be Simcha Rothman and lawyer Michael Rabilo.

US heading anti-jihadist intelligence sharing operation — report

Some 30 countries have been sharing intelligence about jihadist terror organizations at a secret site with the aim of facilitating prosecutions, French newspaper Le Monde reports online.

The “Gallant Phoenix” project, created in 2016, is being headed by the United States and located at a US Army base in Jordan, the daily says.

It seeks to collect and centralize traces left online by terrorists, remnants from jihadist actions anywhere in the world and even the personal belongings of Islamists seized after arrest, all to help prosecutions and provide evidence at trials.

The main contributors to the sharing effort are the Iraqi army, Kurdish forces, NATO allies and the members of the international military coalition against the Islamic State group.

Le Monde says military intelligence units are always eager to collect and evaluate objects left behind by enemy combatants, but “‘Gallant Phoenix’ gives this collection of evidence a framework and a system.”

Some 700 documents relating to 500 jihadists have been handed over by Phoenix to ongoing investigations into acts of terror, the report says.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Biden doubles goal to 200 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days

US President Joe Biden launches a new goal of administering 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States within his first 100 days in office, doubling his original pledge.

“Today I’m setting a second goal, and that is, we will by my 100th day in office have administered 200 million shots in people’s arms,” Biden tells reporters in his first press conference since taking office on January 20.

“I know it’s ambitious, twice our original goal,” he adds. “But no other country in the world has even come close — not even close — to what we are doing, and I believe we can do it.”

Final election results confirm deadlock, offering no clear path to coalition

Central Election Committee members count ballots in Jerusalem on March 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Central Election Committee members count ballots in Jerusalem on March 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Central Elections Committee publishes the final results in Tuesday’s Knesset election, leaving both the premier and his political opponents once again without a clear path to forming a coalition government, and heralding enduring gridlock and a potential fifth election.

Netanyahu’s right-wing and religious backers have 52 seats while parties opposed to the premier have 57 between them. The right-wing Yamina party (with 7) and Islamist Ra’am (with 4), have not committed to either side.

Netanyahu would need both parties to achieve a slim majority, but cooperation between the far-right and Ra’am’s Islamists appears all but impossible.

Meanwhile, a potential “coalition of change” of Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Yamina, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor, New Hope and Meretz would have 58 votes, also three short of a majority, requiring the support of either Ra’am or the Joint List.

The official results will be presented to President Reuven Rivlin next Wednesday.

Election committee says it performed unprecedented checks to ensure vote’s integrity

The Central Elections Committee says the election results have been published “after many and meticulous processes of monitoring and double-checking,” adding that more are being performed and that the results could still change; and that they will only become official next Wednesday, when they are presented to President Reuven Rivlin.

The committee says it picked 500 random ballot boxes on which to perform extra checks and will pick hundreds more, noting that it’s the first time this happens in parallel with the vote counting.

It says it has checked hundreds of complaints it received from the public, election and party officials and police regarding alleged voter fraud or irregularities.

“I think this is the happiest day of my life,” says CEC director Orly Adas in tears, after managing to lead a lightning count of the votes in under 48 hours.

The numbers behind the election: 66,017 backed parties that didn’t enter Knesset

The Central Elections Committee says 4,435,805 people voted in Tuesday’s election out of 6,578,084 eligible voters, a turnout of 67.4%.

Of them, 26,239 votes were disqualified. This means the electoral threshold of 3.25% of kosher votes stands at 143,311.

The number of votes that went to parties that didn’t pass that threshold is 66,017.

That means each Knesset seat is worth 36,158 votes.

Biden says he expects to run for reelection in 2024, again with Kamala Harris

US President Joe Biden answers a question during his first press briefing in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 25, 2021. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)
US President Joe Biden answers a question during his first press briefing in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 25, 2021. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)

US President Joe Biden says his “expectation” is to run for reelection in 2024, an apparent effort to douse speculation that the oldest person to assume the office will step down after a single term.

“My plan is to run for reelection. That’s my expectation,” Biden, 78, tells reporters when asked about his political future.

When pressed, he adds that he is “a great respecter of fate” and does not make firm plans so far in advance, but that if he does run in 2024 he “would fully expect” that Vice President Kamala Harris will be on the ticket.

Likud said ‘shocked’ at loss of 300,000 votes, blaming MK Shlomo Karhi

Many in the ruling Likud party are reportedly “shocked” at the election results, which give it 300,000 votes and 6 seats less than in the previous election, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said angry at MK Shlomo Karhi, the deputy chairman of the party’s election committee.

Likud MK Shlomo Karhi at a Knesset committee meeting on January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Kan public broadcaster reports that many Likud MK and ministers have been criticizing Karhi since Tuesday’s vote, and that Netanyahu has told him: “You didn’t deliver.” Karhi was in charge of the party’s representatives at polling stations.

Karhi comments that he has received “full backing” from Netanyahu and says those criticizing him are “jealous” and “dreaming dreams that never happened.”

Biden warns of ‘responses’ if North Korea ‘choose to escalate’

US President Joe Biden says his country will “respond accordingly” if North Korea escalates its missile testing.

“We are consulting with our partners and allies,” Biden says at his first White House press conference. “And there will be responses if they choose to escalate. We will respond accordingly.”

Biden tells reporters he is “prepared for some form of diplomacy” with North Korea but it “has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”

North Korea fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea today, in its first substantive provocation to Biden’s new administration.

Pyongyang is banned from developing any ballistic missiles under UN Security Council resolutions, and is under multiple international sanctions over its weapons programs.

Biden says the North has violated UN resolutions by testing “those particular missiles.”

The new US president also replies “yes” when asked if North Korea is the top foreign policy issue he is watching.

Biden says not seeking ‘confrontation’ with China

US President Joe Biden says he is not seeking a “confrontation” with China, but that there will be intense competition between the rival superpowers.

He calls Chinese leader Xi Jinping an autocrat who “doesn’t have a democratic — with a small ‘d’ — bone in his body.”

However, Biden says, “I told him in person on several occasions we’re not looking for confrontation, though we know that there will be steep, steep competition.”

AJC condemns both Religious Zionism and ‘parties on opposite end of spectrum’

Itamar Ben Gvir at a polling station in Ofakim during election day, March 23, 2021. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
Itamar Ben Gvir at a polling station in Ofakim during election day, March 23, 2021. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

The American Jewish Jewish Committee issues a statement condemning both the election of Kahanist and homophobic candidates from the Religious Zionism party as well as those on the opposite end of the spectrum.”

“We note with deep concern the apparent entry of representatives from the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Noam parties into the Knesset,” the group says, referring to Itamar Ben Gvir and Avi Maoz respectively.

“We are also concerned about those on the other end of the political spectrum who deny Israel’s very right to exist, even as they are elected via Israel’s democratic system—and embrace such terror groups as Hamas.”

AJC does not specify which parties on the other end of the spectrum it is referring to, nor did it provide examples for the allegations.

“We reiterate AJC’s longstanding policy not to deal with extremist voices and parties in Israel, the United States, and elsewhere, including, notably, in Europe,” the statement concluded.

Liberal US groups condemn entry in Knesset of Kahanist, anti-LGBT candidates

Noam party chairman Avi Maoz (Noam Party)
Noam party chairman Avi Maoz (Noam Party)

The US Reform movement joins two other left-leaning American Jewish groups in condemning the entry into the Knesset of Kahanist and anti-LGBT candidates from the far-right Religious Zionism party.

The Religious Zionism alliance of national religious factions won six seats in Tuesday’s election, meaning its No. 3 candidate, Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir, will be one of the 120 MKs in the next Knesset, along with No. 6 candidate Avi Maoz, the chairman of the Noam party, which has made opposing LGBT rights its top priority.

“We are deeply concerned by the electoral success of candidates and parties that traffic in hate and intolerance,” the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) says in a statement.

Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction speaks at the Religious Zionism party headquarters in Modi’in, on elections night, March 23, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

“The notion that among new members of Knesset will be those who celebrated the massacre of Palestinian Muslims at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs and who champion homophobia and incitement against Reform Jews is a moral stain on the nation and contrary to Israel’s founding values.”

Ben Gvir until recently hung a photo in his living room of Baruch Goldstein, who gunned down 29 Muslim worshippers at the Hebron holy site in 1994.

The URJ said Ben Gvir and Maoz “must not under any circumstances be rewarded for their reprehensible views with seats in the cabinet. To do so would be an assault on Israel’s international standing and principled leadership and a threat to the sacred institutions of Israeli democracy.”

New Hope’s No. 2 vows not to form government propped up by Joint List

MK Yifat Shasha Biton. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
MK Yifat Shasha Biton. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, No. 2 in Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, says her party won’t form a government propped up by the predominantly Arab Joint List, further narrowing the already slim prospects for an anti-Netanyahu coalition.

She tells Channel 12 news that New Hope is aiming for a “center-right government made up of Zionist parties,” without specifying which parties such a coalition would include.

Shasha-Biton says her party is already facing “intense” pressure to enter a government with the ruling Likud, a move it has repeatedly ruled out on the campaign trail.

“All the associates and all of Netanyahu’s inner circle have been making offers in recent days,” she says. “They offered me the education portfolio and in general have promised the world to all party members, but that won’t happen so they can save the effort of the phone calls. We are a very united group. We came to make a change and we are committed to our voters.”

She says the party hasn’t yet decided who to recommend as prime minister, though it appears the obvious choice is Yair Lapid, the head of the biggest party (Yesh Atid) in the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

“The most simple option is that Netanyahu, after failing to get 61 seats in four elections, will step aside and let others do the job.”

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