Netanyahu wins fifth term in office as rival concedes

Right-wing religious parties set to hand Israeli PM a majority after close contest

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has won the country’s national election, securing a record fifth term in office despite running neck-and-neck with his challenger Benny Gantz. Video: Reuters

 

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu secured a clear path to re-election on Wednesday, with far-right parties set to hand him a parliamentary majority and his main challenger conceding defeat. It will be Mr Netanyahu’s fifth term in office.

With more than 99 per cent of votes counted, Mr Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party and his natural coalition of right-wing and religious parties looked set to control 65 of the Knesset’s 120 seats.

Next week president Reuven Rivlin will hold consultations with the leaders of all the parties that gained seats to the Knesset parliament in Tuesday’s election and hear who they recommend to head the next government.

All the potential coalition party leaders have already indicated that they will nominate Mr Netanyahu, with the exception of Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beiteinu, a far-right party which relies on Russian immigrants for most of its support.

Mr Lieberman has, however, made clear that he will not recommend former top general Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, which, like Mr Netanyahu’s Likud, won 35 seats in Tuesday’s poll.

The working assumption is that Mr Lieberman will eventually join Mr Netanyahu’s coalition as well, once he is satisfied with the policy guidelines and is offered a fitting portfolio.

“This is an unimaginable achievement,” Mr Netanyahu told jubilant supporters at Likud party headquarters.

“I am very moved tonight, a night of tremendous victory. I am very excited that the people of Israel once again trusted me for the fifth time and with greater confidence. I believe that God and history gave the Jewish people another opportunity to turn their country into a strong nation, and that’s what I’m working for,” he said.

In a televised statement on Wednesday, Yair Lapid, number two in the Blue and White party, said: “We didn’t win in this round. We will make Likud’s life hell in the opposition.”

Coalition similarities

The new Netanyahu coalition will look very similar to the old one.

The only significant difference is that the far-right Jewish Home party led by education minister Naftali Bennett, in one of the surprises of Tuesday’s vote, failed to enter the Knesset after it morphed into the New Right, although it still hopes to pass the minimum threshold after the soldiers’ votes are counted on Thursday.

It will be replaced by a more extreme new right-wing party, the United Right, which includes a racist anti-Arab faction, Jewish Strength, which was encouraged by Mr Netanyahu to join the list.

Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners are already reminding him of the pledge he made last week to annex West Bank settlements.

It remains to be seen how this promise will gel with the US Middle East peace plan which is due to be unveiled in the near future.

“The fact that Bibi has won, I think we’ll see some pretty good actions in terms of peace,” Mr Trump said on Wednesday, after congratulating Mr Netanyahu on his victory.

Mr Netanyahu’s most immediate problem is the attorney general’s decision to indict him on corruption charges, pending a hearing, including bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

He denies all the accusations, blaming a “left-wing witch hunt”, and has vowed to stay in office, even if indicted. Some coalition members have already raised the possibility of legislation to protect politicians from criminal prosecution.