Netanyahu poised for comeback in Israeli election, exit polls show
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears well placed to return to power after exit polls following Tuesday's election showed his right-wing Israeli nationalist bloc heading for a narrow majority, lifted by a strong showing from his allies further to the right.
Israel's longest-serving premier, on trial over corruption charges which he denies, is poised to take 61-62 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, according to Israeli television exit polls - though the final result may differ.
Almost 1.1 million Palestinian citizens of Israel are eligible to cast their vote in Israeli parliamentary elections, and are the group with the largest turnout variation - making them an important factor in deciding the general outcome of the elections.
But with Netanyahu's far-right coalition looking likely to take an absolute majority, Arab parties in the Knesset may be left out in the cold.
The campaign has also unrolled taken place against a backdrop of increasing Israeli violence in the occupied West Bank, with daily raids, assassinations and dispossessions across Nablus, Jenin and Hebron.
So far in 2022, more than 125 Palestinians have been killed as a result of deadly Israeli raids and attacks - leaving this year on track to be the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the UN started tracking fatalities in 2005.
The campaign was shaped in part by far-right firebrand Itamar Ben-Gvir and his ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism list, now poised to be the third-largest party in parliament after surging in from the political margins.
The early exit polls may differ from the final result of the election, which is not expected until later in the week. But the results pointed to a strong showing by the right, which had been seen falling just short of a majority.
"Of course I'm happy. I only hope it keeps rising," said Likud lawmaker Dudi Amsalem. "We will strengthen Jewish identity, and we will strengthen law and order."
Israel's fifth election in less than four years exasperated many voters but turnout was nonetheless reported at the highest levels since 1999.
Security on the streets and soaring prices topped the list of Israeli voter concerns in a campaign triggered by defections from current Prime Minister Yair Lapid's unlikely ruling coalition of right-wing, 'liberal' and Arab parties.
But policy issues have been overshadowed 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.
Netanyahu, 73, has been counting on support from Ben-Gvir and fellow far-right leader Bezalel Smotric, who call for anyone deemed disloyal to Israel to be expelled from the country.
The prospect of a government including Ben-Gvir, a former member of Kach, a group on Israeli and U.S. terrorist watchlists, and who also regularly leads Israeli settlers' mobs into the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem, risks alarming allies including Washington.
Lapid, whose camp was poised to take 54-55 seats, according to the polls, had campaigned on economic stewardship - but it does not look like enough to stop Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir and Smotric.
Whoever emerges as the eventual winner, Palestinians expect no let-up in Israel's policies of violence, expulsion and settlement from the Occupied West Bank to Gaza.