Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked voters for a ‘huge vote of confidence’ as his right-wing religious bloc extended its lead with around 60% of all votes counted in the country’s fifth election in four years .
His party, the Likud, has yet to achieve the expected results, but an increase in support for its new far-right allies, the religious Zionists, and what appears to be a poor performance for two pro-Arab parties and the left-wing party Meretz. , means the former scandal-ridden leader is currently the candidate most likely to be able to form a government in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election.
Netanyahu’s main opponent, incumbent Prime Minister Yair Lapid, has insisted the race is not yet over, telling his supporters Wednesday morning that “until the last envelope is counted, nothing is over and nothing is final”. While the votes in the left-leaning city of Tel Aviv have yet to be counted, his broad anti-Netanyahu camp, which successfully ousted the former leader from power last year, was expected to win just 54 seats out of the 120 Knesset seats, as exit polls suggested.
The final results could change as the votes are counted. In Israel’s fragmented politics, no party obtains a parliamentary majority and the formation of a coalition is necessary to govern. Negotiations between the parties can take weeks.
As with the previous four elections since 2019, Tuesday’s poll was largely a one-question vote on whether scandal-ridden Netanyahu is fit to be elected.
Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20% of Israel’s population, were to be a decisive factor in blocking his return to power. This time around, their vote was split between three different factions, meaning a lot of votes were wasted.
Speaking hours after the exit poll was released suggesting a narrow majority for his side, Netanyahu said his right-wing religious bloc was “alive and active”.
“We are on the verge of a very big victory,” Netanyahu told supporters at his party’s Likud headquarters. “The people want power, not weakness.”
Prime Minister Yair Lapid did not back down and told his supporters that he would “continue to fight for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic, liberal and progressive state”.
The best performance of the evening came from Netanyahu’s new partners, the far-right Religious Zionists, which emerged as the third largest party. The party’s main candidate, Itamar Ben-Gvir, celebrated at an all-male campaign rally in Jerusalem, where supporters waved Israeli flags and chanted “Death to terrorists”.
Religious Zionists appear poised for unprecedented success, with 13 or 14 seats, down from six in the 2021 vote. Soaring support for the right-wing party could be key to propelling Netanyahu to a third term as prime minister .
Ben-Gvir is a former supporter of the banned terrorist group Kach, convicted of incitement to racism. He promised to support legislation that would change the legal code, which could help Netanyahu escape conviction in his corruption trial.
Netanyahu was accused of giving preferential treatment to a major Israeli telecommunications company in exchange for positive articles on its news site, and receiving gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from the from wealthy friends.
As a senior official in a right-wing coalition government, Ben-Gvir said he would also push for the expulsion of “disloyal” Palestinian citizens from Israel.
The far-right party’s apparent success makes peace with the Palestinians less likely than ever and sets the stage for potential conflict with Israel’s international partners. The United States and the United Arab Emirates have reportedly warned Likud that giving Zionist clerics ministerial roles would hurt bilateral relations. Netanyahu, however, said such a choice cannot be made by outsiders.
. Benjamin Netanyahu thanks voters so polls exit place lead of elections Israel Israel