After nearly 90 percent of the votes were counted, the Netanyahu camp and its opponents were head to head. The daily “Haaretz” saw the Likud and his declared partners on Wednesday with a total of 52 safe seats in parliament. Even with Netanyahu’s ultra-right rival Naftali Bennett from the religious-nationalist Yamina party, he would only have 59 seats out of 120. Bennett also left it open on election evening whether the ex-defense minister would join a coalition under Netanyahu. He said he was a man of the right and would “only do what is good for the State of Israel”. During the election campaign, Bennett had made the replacement of Netanyahu a goal.
Netanyahu’s greatest rival, the liberal Yair Lapid, won around 17 seats with his party Yesh Atid (There is a future). The declared anti-Netanyahu camp would have a total of 56 seats – not enough to force the prime minister, who has been in power for twelve years, out of office.
The Arab party Raam (UAL) managed the 3.25 percent hurdle and is now tipping the scales. Party leader Mansour Abbas did not commit on Wednesday. “We are in nobody’s pocket, not in their right and not in their left,” Abbas said in an interview with Kan television station. Abbas said his UAL would support any government willing to solve the problems of Arab society.
Netanyahu thanked the voters in a first reaction for the “enormous victory of the right and the Likud”. It is clear that the Israelis want a “strong and stable” right-wing government, said the 71-year-old, who has to stand trial in several cases for corruption. Netanyahu announced that it would enter into talks with “all elected representatives” who “share our principles”. He will “not exclude anyone,” he added, referring to former companions who had turned away from him in recent years.
In order to form a viable government coalition, Netanyahu would have to secure the support of a number of smaller parties, including the Religious Zionists Party, which is projected to have six seats. One of the party’s most controversial representatives is the extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir, an avowed admirer of the Jewish assassin Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron in 1994.
It will also be difficult for Yesh Atid boss Lapid to lead the heterogeneous camp of Netanyahu opponents into a stable alliance. In front of supporters in Tel Aviv, Lapid was nevertheless confident on Wednesday. “At the moment Netanyahu does not have 61 seats,” he said. He has also already started talks with other party leaders. “We will wait for the results and do everything we can to build a sensible government in Israel.”
Lapid, who became known as a television journalist in Israel, warned against a far-right government when he cast his vote on Tuesday. “This is the moment of truth for Israel,” he said. There is a threat of a “government of darkness, racism and homophobia”.
The country remains as divided as in the past two years, said the President of the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), Yohanan Plesner, in an initial analysis that night. A fifth choice remains a very real option.
Image can still shift
However, the picture can still shift until all votes are counted, which is not expected before Friday. The counting of around 600,000 so-called double envelopes with votes from soldiers, diplomats, prisoners and corona sufferers should not begin until Wednesday evening. The official final result will be published eight days after the election. According to the election commission, the turnout was 67.2 percent on Tuesday – 4.3 percentage points less than in the March 2020 election.
The new parliamentary election had become necessary after Netanyahu’s coalition with the center-left alliance Blau-Weiß of ex-army chief Benny Gantz broke in the dispute over the budget. After the collapse of the coalition, Blau-Weiß had to fear that he would return to the Knesset – many of Gantz’s voters did not forgive him for entering into a government with Netanyahu, contrary to his promise. According to the projections, the alliance can now count on eight seats – but it has been decimated compared to the election a year ago.
Netanyahu Prime Minister since 2009
Netanyahu has been prime minister since 2009 and is the country’s longest-serving head of government. The youngest Israelis don’t know anyone else. From the perspective of some Israelis, it is time for a change, also because a corruption process is underway against Netanyahu. In addition, many people have not forgotten the government’s failures in the course of the corona pandemic, which is why Netanyahu was not able to score so much with the subsequent, rapid vaccination campaign: The infection numbers were sometimes dramatically high before that, the citizens had to come to terms with long lockdown phases . Secular Israelis also held Netanyahu overly considerate of the ultra-Orthodox. Strictly religious parties were recently important partners of Netanyahu. A dispute arose that put Israeli society to the test.
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