BY AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE – AFP
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies secured a clear victory and a majority in parliament following elections two days ago, Israel’s electoral commission said Thursday.
Results released by the electoral commission said that with 99% of votes counted, Netanyahu and his far-right allies had secured a majority.
With 32 seats for Netanyahu’s Likud party, 18 for ultra-Orthodox parties and 14 for a far-right alliance called Religious Zionism, the right-wing bloc won a total of 64 seats, while caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s centrist bloc won 51 seats.
The commission added that the official and final results would be presented to Israel’s president on Wednesday.
Lapid called his rival Netanyahu to congratulate him on Thursday, and told “his entire office to prepare an organized transition of power,” a statement released by his office said.
Lapid’s concession sets the former premier up to form what may be the most right-wing government in Israeli history, while also spelling the end of an unprecedented period of political deadlock.
The electoral commission results also showed the small left-wing Meretz party dropping below the 3.25% threshold needed to secure a minimum of four seats and falling out of the Knesset.
The 73-year-old Netanyahu secured his comeback after 14 months in opposition. He remains on trial over corruption allegations, which he denies, with the case returning to court on Monday.
Netanyahu has already begun talks with coalition partners on the make-up of a new government, Israeli media reported, but there was no immediate confirmation from his Likud party.
President Isaac Herzog will next week give Netanyahu 42 days to form a government.
Netanyahu, who has served as premier for longer than anyone in Israel’s 74-history, will then be tasked with sharing out cabinet posts with his coalition partners.
That will likely mean prominent roles for the co-leaders of far-right Religious Zionism, which has doubled its representation since the last parliament.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, a firebrand known for anti-Arab rhetoric and incendiary calls for Israel to annex the entire West Bank, has said he wants to be public security minister, a post that would put him in charge of the police.
In recent days, Ben-Gvir has called repeatedly for the security services to use more force in countering Palestinian opposition against Israel’s occupation.
“It’s time we go back to being masters of our country,” Ben-Gvir said on election night.
Religious Zionism’s Bezalel Smotrich has said he wants to be defense minister.
The U.S. State Department expressed veiled concern over the prospect of far-right ministers in a future coalition government, while Britain demanded all politicians “refrain from inflammatory language” and respect minorities.
The vote was held Tuesday against a backdrop of soaring violence across Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
At least 34 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed in the territories since the start of October.
In the latest bloodshed Thursday, an assailant stabbed an Israeli officer in Jerusalem’s Old City before being shot dead, police said.
Three Palestinians were also killed in confrontations with Israeli forces in the West Bank, one near Jerusalem and two during an Israeli raid in the flashpoint city of Jenin, the Palestinian health ministry said.
While many candidates cited security as a concern, none pledged to revive moribund peace talks with the Palestinians.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the projected results highlighted “growing extremism and racism in Israeli society”.
A key factor seen as boosting Netanyahu was the split among Arab parties, who ran as three separate factions instead of the joint list that saw them win a record number of seats in March 2020.
Separately, not all the factions reached the threshold for representation in parliament, meaning their votes were wasted.
Sami Abou Shahadeh, the head of the Balad party that rejects any cooperation with Israeli governments, defended his party’s decision to run independently, even though it was set to be shut out of parliament. “We may be losing our representation in the Knesset but we won the love of our people,” he said.