The election in Israel could head to another deadlock, which will send the country to a historic fifth election in a little more than two years.
According to NBC News, as of Thursday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party had won 30 seats, but the vote count is expected to continue until Friday.
"It's a very close call," said Yohanan Plesner, President of the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute. "It looks like the most likely scenario is still continuing deadlock, continued paralysis."
The Likud party had held onto the top post in a caretaker role from December 2018 to May 2020 when the country formed a national unity government of both Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz.
Their union fell apart in December 2020 when they failed to pass a national budget by the deadline.
Netanyahu was first elected to the prime minister role in 2009.
Despite the ongoing count, Netanyahu tweeted late Wednesday that he felt his victory was secure.
"Citizens of Israel — thank you!" he said in a tweet. "You have bestowed a huge victory on the right-wing and the Likud under my leadership."
Until a majority coalition is formed or until the fifth election, a caretaker government assumes power.
According to the Associated Press, the previous administration becomes the caretaker, and in that role, the government is supposed to avoid making any significant policy changes.
The final election results are presented to President Reuven Rivlin, who then chooses the party with the best chance of forming a majority coalition. That party has up to six weeks to gain a 61-seat majority in the Knesset, Israel's 120-seat parliament.
If the party fails, a majority of lawmakers can support another prime minister candidate who would have two weeks to form a coalition in parliament. If no majority coalition is formed in either case, the country could head to elections in August, NPR reports.
In 2019, no party could form a government, so the Knesset was dissolved, and new elections were called.
Because of the deadlock, a national budget has not been passed in Israel since March 2018.
Netanyahu's long history in office
Netanyahu is the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, serving 12 years in office.
He has also been accused of and faces charges for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. Netanyahu is accused of offering favors to the media in exchange for favorable coverage. He has denied the charges in three separate cases, calling the trial a "witch-hunt," and he has also refused to respond to calls for his resignation.
He is the first sitting prime minister to go on trial for corruption, according to NBC News.
"This proves yet again that Israelis are split right down to the middle when it comes to the main question that defines Israeli politics today: Are you for or against the continuing of the premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu?" said Yohanan Plesner, a former Israeli politician and the President of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank.
This week, Mansour Abbas, the leader of the United Arab List, a conservative Islamist party, said he supported Netanyahu.
Afif Abu Much, a Palestinian political commentator in Israel, speaking on Israeli public television, said Abbas could "be the man who decides what government is here. That's what he wanted to change, this line of thinking that we the Arabs are always with the center-left."
Meanwhile, Netanyahu is appealing to fringe parties, such as far-right Jewish activists, to join with his coalition and help him win the majority in the election.
"In the past, he very much made sure that those forces remained in the margin, I mean, he made sure not to include them in his governments," Plesner said. "Today, Netanyahu was the key, played a key role in bringing them through the front door into mainstream Israeli politics."
According to the Associated Press, "the margin of victory could be extremely tight, potentially allowing a small, fringe party to decide who heads the next government."
Going against Gantz
Netanyahu faces most opposition from Gantz's party, the Blue and White.
"I regret that the Prime Minister is preoccupied with his trial and not the public interest, and is prepared to drag the entire country into a period of uncertainty, instead of ensuring economic stability and a rehabilitation of the economy," Gantz said last year.
Netanyahu, however, previously said he was not afraid of another election with Gantz.
"Blue and White withdrew from the agreements [to modify the original coalition agreement] and dragged us to unnecessary elections during the corona crisis," Netanyahu said in December. "We do not want an election and we voted against it ... but we are not afraid of elections – because we will win!"
In 2020, Gantz had agreed to join with Netanyahu after three elections failed to declare a winner.
Under the agreement with Netanyahu, the two would share the Prime Minister role, each serving as Prime Minister for 18 months. The deal also required lawmakers to approve a budget before a deadline. They failed to meet that deadline.
Israel and COVID-19
Ballot counting may be delayed as part of issues with the pandemic. Israel, however, has emerged as a world leader in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in the country's vaccine rollout.
Half of Israel's population of 9.3 million have already received the vaccine, and in early March, the country celebrated its five millionth vaccination.
The vaccine rollout has been a significant part of Netanyahu's campaign, which he has called "Back to Life." Because of the country's success with administering vaccines, Netanyahu is negotiating with 20 countries to provide up to 100,000 vaccine doses. The doses come from a surplus in the country of the Moderna vaccine.
Some praised the country for sharing its resources, but others criticized the government for failing to vaccinate the Palestinian population living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"It says a lot about a regime," said Salem Barahmeh, executive director at the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, "that it is willing to send vaccines halfway across the world, potentially for a quid pro quo, and not offer the vaccine to the millions of Palestinians who live under the Israeli occupation."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Amir Levy/Stringer
Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.