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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces an uncertain political future following Tuesday’s election.

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hold on power appeared precarious Wednesday as nearly complete election results showed that his conservative Likud party and its allies fell short of a parliamentary majority.

With the main Israeli stations reporting more than 90% of votes counted, the rival Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz, seemingly fought Netanyahu’s party to a virtual draw. Gantz and his center-left political partners did not garner a majority either, but the 60-year-old former military chief might be better positioned than the prime minister to strike the necessary deals to forge a coalition government.

However, weeks of difficult coalition negotiations lie ahead, and even a final official vote count is probably still days away, with absentee ballots still to be counted.

Netanyahu’s failure to score a decisive victory left him vulnerable not only to being ejected from the post he has held for the last decade, but also facing probable criminal charges without the means to legally shield himself. If he had triumphed, the small far-right parties committed to teaming up with him had also expressed willingness to support measures that might have granted him immunity as a sitting prime minister.

Yossi Verter, a political analyst for the Haaretz newspaper, wrote that Netanyahu, perhaps the ultimate survivor in Israeli politics, had never been “as close to losing power, to a trial and perhaps even to prison down the road.”

“It’s very hard to see how he can form the next government,” Verter wrote.

In a token of how seriously Netanyahu takes his political predicament, the prime minister’s office said Wednesday the Israeli leader was scrapping his plan to travel to the United Nations for the General Assembly next week. As Israel’s former ambassador to the U.N., he usually uses the high-profile annual event to forcefully press Israel’s worldview and confer with allies such as President Donald Trump.

Moving forward, old enmities will almost certainly come back to haunt the prime minister. His ally-turned nemesis Avigdor Lieberman, a former defense minister, has been cast in a kingmaking role after his secular-nationalist party gained strength. And an Arab-majority faction that Netanyahu demonized in the campaign, the Joint List, also performed strongly, on track to become the third-largest party in parliament.

Gantz has ruled out a partnership with Likud as long as Netanyahu is at the party’s helm and under a legal cloud.

It will fall to Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, whose role is mainly ceremonial, to decide in coming days whether to give Gantz or Netanyahu the first crack at forming a government. After similarly deadlocked results in April, Netanyahu was given the chance to try first, but was unable to cobble together a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament.

Rather than give Gantz a chance to try, he dissolved parliament and triggered Tuesday’s vote.

This time, though, Rivlin has made it clear he is determined to avoid a third election. Even the two national votes that have taken place this year marked a first for Israel.

Addressing supporters early Wednesday, a grim-looking Netanyahu did not concede defeat. He vowed to push for a government that excludes Arab parties, accusing them of seeking to “negate the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

No Arab party has ever sat in an Israeli coalition government, although individual Arab politicians have served in the Cabinet. The Joint List’s leader, Ayman Odeh, has suggested he might instead lead the opposition. That would mean he would receive the same intelligence briefings and military assessments as the prime minister — a bitter pill for hard-liners like Netanyahu to swallow.

Los Angeles Times