Benjamin Netanyahu returns to power after Israeli election win

Benjamin Netanyahu returns to power after Israeli election win
Benjamin Netanyahu has returned to power after Israeli election votes gave him and his extremist allies a majority in parliament.
4 min read
04 November, 2022
Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party had won 32 seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament [Getty]

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sealed his return to power Thursday, as the final vote count from elections this week gave him and his far-right allies a clear majority in parliament.

Results released by the electoral commission said that with 99 percent of votes counted, Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party had won 32 seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.

That combined with 18 for two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and 14 for the rising extreme-right alliance called Religious Zionism gave the bloc supporting Netanyahu 64 seats.

The parties backing centrist caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid won 51 seats, a definitive win for Netanyahu that spells an end to Israel's unprecedented era of political deadlock, which forced five elections in less than four years.

The right-wing ex-premier has overseen multiple attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Hours after his election win was confirmed, the Israeli army bombed the Gaza Strip after Palestinian fighters launched four rockets towards Israel. 

One was intercepted and three others "exploded inside the Gaza strip", the Israeli army said, confirming the first launches from the territory since a three day conflict in August between Israel and the Islamic Jihad armed group. No group immediately claimed Thursday's launches.

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Lapid called his rival Netanyahu to congratulate him on Thursday, and told "his entire office to prepare an organised transition of power", a statement from his office said.

The result sets Netanyahu up to form what may be the most extreme right-wing government in Israeli history.

He received quick congratulations from Italy's far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Hungary's Viktor Orban - a long-standing Netanyahu ally-- and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, who voiced hope for a "new page" in bilateral relations.

Zelenksy has been frustrated with Israel's refusal to send weapons to Ukraine, but Netanyahu may be unlikely to reverse that policy, given Israel's need to preserve ties with Russia.

The 73-year-old Netanyahu secured his comeback after 14 months in opposition. He remains on trial over corruption allegations, which he denies, with the case returning to court on Monday.

Coalition talks

The official, certified results will be presented on Wednesday to Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who will task Netanyahu with forming a government.

Netanyahu, who has served as premier for longer than anyone in Israel's 74-history, will then begin sharing out cabinet posts with his coalition partners.

That will likely mean prominent roles for the co-leaders of the extrem-right Religious Zionism, which has doubled its representation since the last parliament.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, a racist known for violent anti-Palestinian rhetoric and incendiary calls for Israel to annex the entire West Bank, has said he wants to be public security minister, a post that would put him in charge of the police.

In recent days, Ben-Gvir has called repeatedly for the security services to use even more force against Palestinians.

"It's time we go back to being masters of our country," Ben-Gvir said on election night.

Religious Zionism's Bezalel Smotrich has said he wants to be defence minister.

The US State Department expressed veiled concern over the prospect of far-right ministers in a future coalition government, while Britain demanded all politicians "refrain from inflammatory language" and respect minorities.

Yossi Klein Halev, a researcher at Jerusalem's Shalom Hartman Institute, told AFP that "Netanyahu will have a hard time controlling his new partners".

Palestinian split

The vote was held Tuesday against a backdrop of deadly Israeli raids in the West Bank which have killed scores of Palestinians since the beginning of the year.

At least 34 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed in the occupied Palestinian territory since the start of October, according to an AFP tally.

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On Thursday, Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian man who they said had stabbed an Israeli officer in Jerusalem's Old City 

Three Palestinians, including an alleged Islamist commander, were also killed in Israeli raids in the West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.

While many candidates in the Israeli election cited "security" as a concern, none pledged to revive moribund peace talks with the Palestinians.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the projected results highlighted "growing extremism and racism in Israeli society".

A key factor seen as boosting Netanyahu was the split among parties representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, who ran as three separate factions instead of the joint list that saw them win a record number of seats in March 2020.

Separately, not all the factions reached the threshold for representation in parliament, meaning their votes were wasted.

Sami Abou Shahadeh, the head of the Balad party, defended his party's decision to run independently, even though it was set to be shut out of parliament.

"We may be losing our representation in the Knesset but we won the love of our people," he said.