Israel Election Results May Push Benjamin Netanyahu Into Conflict With Joe Biden

Israelis are facing yet more political deadlock after the fourth general election in two years failed to produce a clear winner or signal the end of Benjamin Netanyahu's time at the helm.

Despite facing fraud charges, the 71-year-old prime minister guided his right-wing Likud party to the most seats on polling day. But Bibi—as he is known in Israel—will again fall short of a simple majority.

Likud is believed to have secured 30 to 32 seats, some way short of the 61 needed for a majority in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. But the support of his traditional allies puts Netanyahu within touching distance of a new government.

He will likely have to rely on far-right fringe lawmakers and parties to form a coalition government. "With this majority, we have to build a stable Israeli government," Netanyahu said on Tuesday night.

"I stretch out my hand to all [Knesset members] who believe in this path; I don't rule anybody out. I expect all who believe in our principles to act in a similar fashion."

"Join us in this government," Netanyahu added, promising "a right-wing government that will look after all Israeli citizens."

The prime minister has already overseen a rightward shift in Israeli politics over the past decade. The country's left-wing parties have been unable to form a coherent and popular opposition to Netanyahu's nationalism, with the only real challenge coming from center and center-right groups.

This suited the U.S.-Israel alliance under former President Donald Trump, whose own anti-immigration, evangelical Christian, pro-military and commercialist strains aligned him closely with Netanyahu. But with President Joe Biden in office, a further rightward pivot in Israel might pose a problem for Washington, D.C.

Netanyahu and his allies have already earned the ire of American Democrats for human rights abuses of Palestinians in Israel, the occupation of the West Bank, expansion of West Bank settlements considered illegal by the United Nations and blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The Biden administration is a staunch supporter of the two-state solution, a blueprint for future Israeli and Palestinian states that is largely defunct thanks to expansionist Israeli policy and Palestinian political infighting.

State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters on Tuesday that the White House considered it "critical" for the two sides to "advance a negotiated two-state solution" and avoid anything that might damage such efforts—for example, "annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism."

But Netanyahu is now courting figures who would prompt concern in Washington. His traditional allies among the ultra-Orthodox Jewish factions include lawmakers such as Aryeh Deri, who said this weekend it was not "natural" for a woman to stand as a candidate for his Shas party.

Netanyahu said he had already spoken to allies including the Religious Zionism Party. Its members are strong supporters of the growing West Bank settlements and favor at least partial annexation of the West Bank.

Its politicians have also previously called for the expulsion of "disloyal" Arabs from the country. The party is expected to win six or seven seats, giving it significant pull in a potential Netanyahu coalition.

Far-right former settler leader Naftali Bennett could yet prove the prime minister's key to another term. Bennett said on the campaign trail that Netanyahu could not be trusted to lead again, but his Yamina party and its expected seven or eight seats would boost the veteran politician.

Bennett hinted at possible negotiations when he addressed supporters on Tuesday night, saying: "Now is the time to heal and heal the rifts within the nation. Under the power you have entrusted in me, I will act with only one guiding principle: what is good for Israel." He added: "A real right-winger doesn't hate, he unites."

Biden has so far been relatively cool on Netanyahu, though he and his top officials have repeatedly expressed their "ironclad" support for America's alliance with Israel. If Netanyahu cobbles together another government with far-right, anti-two-state ministers, a new chill could blow across bilateral relations.

Netanyahu addresses Likud supporters after election 2021
Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, addresses supporters at the party campaign headquarters in Jerusalem early on March 24. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images