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The Outcome Of Israel's Latest Election Remains Uncertain

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news now. The outcome of Israel's election is uncertain, just like the outcomes of the past three elections. About 90% of the votes are counted enough for analysts to conclude that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could struggle to form the majority coalition he needs to win another term. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.

(APPLAUSE, CHEERING)

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped short of declaring victory.

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: He called the elections a great accomplishment for his right-wing Likud Party, shaping up to win more seats in parliament than any other party. But he'll still need to partner with other parties to win a majority. He laid out a vision for the government he'd want to lead.

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NETANYAHU: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Opposing an Iranian nuclear weapons program and expanding diplomatic agreements with Arab countries, most lawmakers would support those policies. And he asked them to join his coalition. But it's not that simple. This is Israel's fourth election in two years, where the country is split down the middle between parties that support Netanyahu and parties that want him out after 12 straight years in office and on trial for corruption.

YOHANAN PLESNER: Well, it's a very close call. It looks like the most likely scenario is still continued paralysis.

ESTRIN: Yohanan Plesner heads the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute. With a majority of votes counted, he says it appears unlikely that Netanyahu and his right-wing Jewish allies would be able to form a government because they'd need the support of an unlikely partner, an Islamist party. The other option, he says, also seems unlikely, an opposition coalition of left, right and center relying on a different Palestinian Arab party. In both camps, there are those who refuse to cooperate with Arab parties. No matter who forms the government, prominent far-right Jewish activists appear to have made it into Parliament for the first time. Plesner says Netanyahu had previously kept them on the margins.

PLESNER: Today, Netanyahu played a key role in bringing them through the front door into mainstream Israeli politics.

ESTRIN: Votes are still being counted. And elections officials are working in smaller groups due to COVID-19 distancing. So the electoral map could still shift, tipping the balance toward or away from Netanyahu forming the new government.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "RAIN FALL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.