Israel mired in deadlock as votes tallied

Josef FedermanAAP
Mansour Abbas, leader of the United Arab List, could choose Israel's next prime minister.
Camera IconMansour Abbas, leader of the United Arab List, could choose Israel's next prime minister.

Israel appears to be barrelling toward another political stalemate after what was shaping up to be its fourth inconclusive election in the past two years.

But there were small signs the country's bitter rivals were looking for creative solutions to find a way out of the impasse and avoid another election.

Candidates across the political spectrum called for unity and healing as a little known Islamist lawmaker emerged as the politician most likely to choose the country's next prime minister.

Mansour Abbas of the United Arab List said he was "not in the pocket of anyone" and vowed to listen to offers from anyone willing to talk to him.

Even embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not rule out anyone as a potential governing partner.

"I disqualify no one," Netanyahu told supporters on Wednesday.

"A stable government for the state of Israel, that is what the times require... We must not, under any circumstances, drag the state of Israel to new elections."

Tuesday's election, like its three recent predecessors, was seen as a referendum on Netanyahu and his polarising leadership style.

With nearly 90 per cent of the votes counted on Wednesday, both Netanyahu's supporters and his opponents appeared to fall short of securing the 61-seat majority in parliament required to form a government.

Netanyahu's Likud party and its ultra-Orthodox and conservative allies were projected to control 59 seats - even if the small Yamina party were to join it.

Yamina's leader, former Netanyahu ally turned critic Naftali Bennett, has not said which way he will go.

Netanyahu's opponents were poised to finish with 61 seats.

Even if that projection is upheld by final official results in the coming days, there is no guarantee the anti-Netanyahu parties could form an alternative government.

The bloc includes a range of parties - Arab and Jewish, religious and secular, dovish and nationalist toward the Palestinians - that have little in common beyond their distaste for Netanyahu.

"Assuming all parties and politicians keep up their pre-election promises and the results remain unchanged, then we're heading toward a fifth election," said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank.

"This can be avoided if pre-election promises or pledges are unwound."

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