Israel election: 87.6% ballots counted, former PM Netanyahu set to make comeback

By India Today Web Desk: With 87.6 per cent of ballots counted in the Israeli general elections, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to return to power. This was the country’s fifth general election in less than four years.

Netanyahu’s party Likud and its far-right allies are projected to win 65 seats in the 120-seat Israeli parliament. In Israel’s fragmented politics, no single party has ever won a parliamentary majority, and coalition-building is necessary to govern.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu addressed his supporters at the Likud party election headquarters and said, “We are on the brink of a very big victory.”

Israel has been locked in an unprecedented period of political stalemate since 2019, when 73-year-old Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving prime minister, was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Netanyahu’s main rival in the election was the man who helped oust him last year, the centrist caretaker Yair Lapid.

The campaign was dominated by the outsized personality of Netanyahu, whose legal battles have fed the stalemate blocking Israel’s political system since he was indicted on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in 2019.

Lapid’s camp was poised to take 54-55 seats, with his There Is a Future party coming in second-largest in parliament, according to the polls.

Speaking to supporters at his party headquarters, Lapid stopped short of conceding the election and said he will wait until the final results were in.

“We have no intention to stop,” Lapid said. “We will continue to fight for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic, liberal and progressive state.”

He campaigned on his stewardship of the economy as well as diplomatic advances with countries including Lebanon and Turkey. But it was not enough to stop the right.

The result, however, left Netanyahu depending on support from Ben-Gvir and fellow far-right leader Bezalel Smotrich, who have moderated some extreme anti-Arab positions but still call for anyone deemed disloyal to Israel to be expelled.

The prospect of a government including Ben-Gvir, a former member of Kach, a group on Israeli and U.S. terrorist watchlists, and who was once convicted for racist incitement, risks alarming allies including Washington.

It also reinforced Palestinian scepticism that a political solution to the conflict was likely after a campaign which unrolled against a backdrop of increasing violence in the occupied West Bank, with near-daily raids and clashes.

“The election results proved what we already know, that we have no peace partner in Israel,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a statement.

The outcome could be affected by whether or not Balad, a small Arab party, gets over the threshold for entry into parliament, which could shake up the distribution of seats and potentially thwart Netanyahu.

The Central Elections Committee said it had found no sign of any manipulation and said there was no basis to rumours of supposed fraud.

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