Neither of the two main parties (photo, from bbc.co.uk) can form a government on its own, confirmed the final results of Israel’s general election.
To be able to do that, a party would need 61 seat. However, with military and overseas ballots counted, the governing Kadima has 28 seats and the opposition Likud has 27.
In order to form a government, party leaders are seeking coalition partners.
Next week, Israel’s president is expected to begin consultations about which party to ask to form a government.
On Wednesday, the results will be published officially, and president Shimon Peres can ask either Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, the current foreign minister, or Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu to try to form a coalition government.
Saying that the parliament has a broad right-wing majority, Mr Netanyahu, a former prime minister, has argued that he is best placed to form a government.
But correspondents say that the final results released by the Israel Elections Committee dashed his hopes that the late counting of votes from soldiers could swing the ballot his way.
After saying Britain would work with whatever government was formed towards the creation of a Palestinian state “able to live alongside a secure Israel”, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband added : “I think 70 or 75% of the Israeli public say they want a two-state solution but… I think the election results don’t reflect that view in the nomination of the Knesset.”
‘Ready to lead’
With 15 seats, the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu came third in the election, while the Labour party led by Defence Minister Ehud Barak was pushed back into an unprecedented fourth place with 13 seats. (illustration, from bbc.co.uk)
Speaking at a victory rally earlier, Ms Livni told supporters she was ready to lead the country.
However, Mr Netanyahu said that, with God’s help, he would lead the next government.
The headline “Political stalemate” was put alongside photographs of both leaders in the country’s largest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth.
65 of the 120 seats in the Knesset are now controlled by Likud and various nationalist parties.
Although Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman said his party wanted a right-wing government, he added: “We do not rule out anyone.”
On Wednesday he met with Ms Livni, as Kadima attempted to forge a coalition.
Later, Mr Netanyahu met Mr Lieberman, as well as the head of Shas, Eli Yishay.
It is thought that coalition negotiations could take weeks.
Land for peace
Even though Likud had held a solid lead in opinion polls prior to the election, Kadima closed the gap in the final days.
Yet, several smaller parties, whose support Ms Livni would need, are opposed to some of her policies, especially her pledge to exchange land for peace with the Palestinians.
Whoever is chosen to form the next government will have up to 42 days to form a coalition. If the attempt fails, Mr Peres can ask another leader to assume the task.
Security issues have dominated the election, after Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Although the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, has not expressed preference for any candidate, senior negotiator Saeb Erakat expressed dismay right-wing parties that oppose the traditional land-for-peace formula had performed so well.
“It is obvious the Israelis have voted to paralyse the peace process”, he said.
Elections were called early following Ms Livni failed attempt to form a new government after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s decision to step down last year amid a corruption probe against him.
Until a new government is formed, Mr Olmert will stay on as caretaker prime minister.