JERUSALEM | After the general elections in Israel that put his party at the top, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be on his way back to power thanks to the far right, although the final results could change the situation.
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“Netanyahu aims for decisive victory, Lapid hopes for equality, Ben Gvir celebrates victory,” headlines Yediot Aharonot, the best-selling Israeli newspaper, on Wednesday.
By 5:30 p.m., around 87 percent of the ballot papers had been counted, the election commission said. According to its partial results, Mr Netanyahu’s Likud (right) gets 32 seats ahead of outgoing Prime Minister Yaïr Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid (‘There is a future’) formation, which gathers 24 seats out of 120 of Parliament.
Netanyahu’s far-right allies Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir took third place with 14 seats, double the previous number.
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Behind is the centre-right party of ex-army chief Benny Gantz (12 seats), member of the outgoing coalition.
Together with his allies, Mr Netanyahu’s bloc would have 65 seats, four more than a majority.
However, these results could change when the official results are announced, particularly depending on the seats won by the smaller parties. Two lists – an Israeli-Arab party and the left-wing formation Meretz – are flirting with the eligibility threshold.
“It is too early to speculate on the exact composition of the next coalition government until all votes are tallied,” US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides said in a statement.
The election came amid renewed violence in the West Bank, Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967. On Wednesday, the Israeli army killed a Palestinian who had seriously injured a soldier in a vehicle attack at a checkpoint.
“Coalition of Extremists”
Accused of corruption and the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, Mr Netanyahu, 73, lost power in June 2021 in favor of a ragtag coalition formed by Yair Lapid.
“(…) We have to wait for the final results, but our path, that of the Likud, has proven to be the right one, we are on the verge of a great victory,” Netanyahu told his supporters overnight in Jerusalem.
His rival, Mr Lapid, also asserted that “until the last ballot is counted, nothing is decided”.
But from the start, a former Likud party, current Justice Minister Gideon Saar, warned of the risk of Israel heading towards a “coalition of extremists” led by Mr Netanyahu and his allies.
“The time is ripe for a full-fledged right-wing government. It’s time to be the masters (…) of our country! ‘ Mr Ben Gvir started Wednesday, repeating his call for the use of force, particularly against the Palestinians.
“Israel is about to embark on a right-wing, religious and authoritarian revolution aimed at destroying the democratic infrastructure on which the country was built,” alarmed the major left-wing daily Haaretz.
“I woke up this morning hoping that the results had changed, but when I read that he was leading[Netanyahu, ed.]I was completely depressed,” Lauren Vaturi Moses told AFP.
“It is absurd that he can be elected while he is indicted and his trial is underway. »
For this fifth parliamentary election in three and a half years, the political class fears that the 6.8 million registered voters will become “tired”. But on the contrary, the participation rate was 71.3%, the highest since 2015.
In Israel’s proportional representation system, a list must receive at least 3.25% of the votes to enter parliament, i.e. at least four seats.
The situation is particularly critical for the Israeli Arab minority parties, which are hostile to Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc.
By 2020, they had garnered a record 15 seats after campaigning under one banner. But this time they presented themselves in scattered order under three lists, Raam (Islamist), Hadash-Taal (secular), and Balad (nationalist). If some fail to meet the eligibility threshold, it will increase the chances of a victory for Mr Netanyahu.
“The results show that Netanyahu has the best chance of forming a government with fascists on his side,” Hadash-Taal MK Aida Touma-Suleiman said. “We are deeply concerned as this speaks to the direction in which this country is moving and what awaits the Palestinians. »