TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won Israel’s elections this week, final results were released Thursday, paving the way for his return to power.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid praised Netanyahu and asked his team to prepare for an organized transition of power, his office said.
“The State of Israel comes before any political consideration,” Lapid said. “I wish Netanyahu success, for the sake of the people of Israel and the State of Israel.”
Lapid, who has served as interim prime minister for the past four months, made the announcement just before the release of final results showing Netanyahu secured a parliamentary majority along with his religious and ultranationalist allies.
Netanyahu is expected to form the most right-wing government in the country’s history when he takes power, likely in the coming weeks.
Israel held its fifth election in four years on Tuesday, a protracted political crisis that has seen voters divided over Netanyahu’s fitness to serve during his corruption trial.
According to the final results, which are yet to be certified in the coming days, Netanyahu and his ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox allies won 64 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, or Knesset. His opponents in the current coalition, led by Lapid, won 51 seats, with the rest held by a small, unaffiliated Arab party.
Netanyahu’s victory and his comfortable majority put an end, for the time being, to Israel’s political instability. But that leaves Israelis divided over their leadership and the values that define their state: Jewish or democratic.
Netanyahu’s main partner in government is expected to be the far-right Religious Zionism party, whose lead candidate, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is a disciple of a racist anti-Arab rabbi.
Ben-Gvir says he wants to end Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank and until recently hung a picture in his home of Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli-American who killed 29 Palestinians in a a shooting in the West Bank in 1994. Ben-Gvir, who is seeking to expel Arab lawmakers, says he wants to be named head of the national police.
Religious Zionism has vowed to enact changes to Israeli law that could make Netanyahu’s legal troubles go away and, along with other nationalist allies, want to weaken the independence of the judiciary and concentrate more power in the hands of lawmakers .
Party leader Bezalel Smotrich, a West Bank settler who has made anti-Arab remarks, has his sights set on the Defense Ministry. This would make him the overseer of the Israeli army and military occupation in the West Bank.
As the votes were counted, Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted, with at least four Palestinians killed in separate incidents and an Israeli policeman lightly injured by a stab wound.
Ben-Gvir used the incidents to promise a tougher approach to Palestinian attackers once he enters government.
“Now is the time to restore safety to the streets,” he tweeted. “The time has come for a terrorist who goes out to carry out an attack to be eliminated!”
The rise of Israel’s right wing has come at the expense of its left flank. The Labor Party, once a dominant element of Israeli politics and which supports the creation of a Palestinian state, was teetering just above the electoral threshold.
As the vote count drew to a close, the anti-occupation Meretz seemed to be heading into political exile for the first time since its founding in the 1990s.
Meretz leader Zehava Galon conceded that the party would not be in the next parliament. “It’s a disaster for Meretz, a disaster for the country and yes, a disaster for me,” she said.
After the official announcement of the results, the ceremonial president of Israel selects a candidate, who will be Netanyahu, to form a government.
He will then have four weeks to do so. Netanyahu is likely to wrap up the talks within that time frame, but Religious Zionism is expected to negotiate a tough bargain for his support.
The polarizing Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, was ousted in 2021 after 12 consecutive years in power by an ideologically diverse coalition that included a small Arab party for the first time in Israel’s history. The coalition collapsed in the spring due to infighting.
Netanyahu is accused of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving wealthy associates and media moguls. He denies any wrongdoing, viewing the trial as a witch hunt against him orchestrated by a hostile media and a biased justice system.
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