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Netanyahu has ruled out a coalition with Ra'am's help

Updated election tally pushes Ra’am into Knesset, remaking blocs

Likud, whose bloc drops to 59 seats, split on possibility of coalition supported by Islamist party; Abbas: ‘If there is an offer, we’ll sit and talk’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas at the Islamist party's campaign headquarters in the northern city of Tamra on March 23, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas at the Islamist party's campaign headquarters in the northern city of Tamra on March 23, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

An updated vote tally released Wednesday morning put the Islamist Ra’am party above the electoral threshold, dramatically altering the breakdown of the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs and transforming chairman Mansour Abbas into a possible kingmaker.

With 87 percent of the vote tallied, the Arab Israeli party managed to rack up over 150,000 votes and is now predicted to receive five seats in the next Knesset, according to figures released by the Central Elections Committee.

Ra’am’s new standing comes at the expense of Likud, Yesh Atid, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Meretz, which each dropped one seat from the number predicted earlier in the count. With three of those parties inside the pro-Netanyahu bloc, Ra’am’s gain pushed the parties supporting the prime minister under the crucial 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

According to the latest division of seats, Likud would win 30, Shas 9, United Torah Judaism 7, and the Religious Zionism party 6. That would give the pro-Netanyahu bloc a total of just 52 seats, still short of a majority even if Yamina were to join with its 7 seats.

On the other side of the aisle, the parties that have vowed to oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forming the next coalition have 56 seats.

Ra’am could potentially, therefore, put either side over the 61 mark, crowning the next premier.

Reacting to the updated vote tally, Abbas stressed that he was not “in the pocket” of either parliamentary bloc.

“We are willing to negotiate with both sides, with anyone interested in forming a government and who views themselves as a future prime minister,” Abbas told Radio 103FM.

“If there is an offer, we’ll sit and talk,” he said.

Israel’s fourth elections in two years found Arab Israelis split between the Joint List, a coalition of Arab parties formed in 2015, and the conservative Islamist Ra’am.

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas casts his vote in his hometown of Maghar in northern Israel (Credit: Ra’am Spokesperson)

The party, and its leader Abbas, were elected in March 2020 as part of the Joint List. But Abbas struck out on his own path, outlining a “new method” of Arab Israeli politics — a thoroughly pragmatic approach that could see him back a Netanyahu-led government in exchange for seeing his legislative priorities advanced.

Abbas’s public split with his former allies brought both sides enormous criticism from within the Arab community. Abbas’s defenders called him pragmatic, sensible and innovative, while his distractors viewed him as shady and unprincipled.

The Likud party appeared split Wednesday morning over the possibility of forming a coalition that relied on the support of Ra’am, a prospect that Netanyahu ruled out during the election campaign.

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch of Likud told the Kan public broadcaster that  Abbas “will definitely not be part of the government.”

He said that if the pro-Netanyahu bloc ends up not getting the necessary 61-seat majority, “we are heading to fifth elections.”

However, in a separate interview with Channel 12 news, Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi said that “in the current situation, we view Mansour Abbas as a potential possibility [for coalition partner].”

In response, Likud MK Shlomo Karhi tweeted: “Absolutely not!”

“Who is Shlomo Karhi?” responded Hanegbi. “When I leave the studio, I’ll google his name.”

Coalition whip and Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar said in a tweet: “It is our duty to do everything, and I mean everything, to prevent fifth elections. We must exhaust all available political options to form a government that will work for the citizens of Israel, because that is what is currently important to our country.”

Netanyahu repeatedly vowed during the campaign that he would not only refuse to sit in a coalition with Ra’am, but would also not rely on the Islamist party’s support from outside of the government. “Mansour Abbas? I won’t rely [for a majority] on anyone who opposes Zionism,” he told Channel 12 news last week. “I won’t do that… Out of the question.” Pressed on whether he would even accept Abbas’s support from outside the coalition, he repeated: “I won’t do it.”

Likud supporters at the party headquarters in Jerusalem, on elections night, on March 23, 2021.(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Also on Wednesday morning, New Hope candidate and former Likud minister Ze’ev Elkin reiterated his party’s pledge not to join a government headed by Netanyahu, “no matter what job we are offered.” He also affirmed that no member of Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope would defect to Netanyahu’s bloc.

“If Netanyahu forms a government, we will serve the public from the opposition,” Elkin tweeted.

He also said New Hope wouldn’t be in a coalition propped up by Ra’am, leaving the faction with limited options after it performed poorly in the election. With 87% of the vote tallied, New Hope had six seats.

Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas said Wednesday morning that final results from all the regular polling stations would be confirmed and published by the afternoon.

According to Adas, the polling stations have all finished counting but the elections committee is checking the results according to protocol and gradually updating the total tally.

She said that there were some 450,000 “double envelope” ballots — absentee votes cast anywhere outside of one’s assigned polling station. In the previous three elections, the number of people voting by double envelope rose from 240,000, to 280,000, to 330,000 in the last election in March 2020.

Aaron Boxerman and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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