By Arab News
By Daoud Kuttab
A massive Arab vote in Israel’s parliamentary election appeared on Tuesday to have thwarted attempts by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stay in power and avoid prosecution for fraud and corruption.
Arab voter turnout hit an unprecedented 66 percent, compared with less than 60 percent at the last election in September, and the Arab Joint List is expected to increase its number of parliamentary seats from 13 to 15.
With almost all votes counted on Tuesday, Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc was heading for 59 seats — two short of the 61 required for a majority in the Knesset. Opposition leader Benny Gantz refused to concede defeat, and said the election could result in another deadlock.
“The results of the Joint List are great, and we are hoping it will spoil Netanyahu’s chances of forming a government,” Nazareth lawyer Boutros Mansour told Arab News. “But regardless, it is a great victory for Palestinian citizens of Israel.”
Netanyahu is due in court on March 17 on charges of fraud, corruption and abuse of power.
He requires a majority in the Knesset to pass legislation granting him immunity, which now looks increasingly unlikely.
Netanyahu’s Likud party will struggle to cobble together a working coalition, Wadi Abunassar, director of the International Center for Consultation, told Arab News. “Despite doing well, Netanyahu has an uphill battle,” he said.
“His limited options include trying to chisel two or three members from the other bloc to join him.”
Netanyahu is thought to be wooing Moshe Ya’alon, a member of Gantz’s opposition Blue and White Party and a former defense minister under Netanyahu; and Orly Levy-Abekasis, a former member of Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu who now represents her own independent Gesher party in the Labor/Meretz coalition.
Levy-Abekasis has ambitions to be a minister and could be persuaded to flip but Ya’alon will not, said
Boutros Mansour, who has been closely following the Israeli political scene for decades. “There is a lot of hatred now against Netanyahu and it is highly unlikely for this to work,” he said.