image Photo: Flash90

High voter turnout for Israeli election

Former Premier Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to return to power, proclaiming that his right-wing bloc is on the cusp of a resounding election win.

By Erin Viner

As of the writing of this article, 84.3% of votes have been counted, projecting a win by Netanyahu’s conservative Likud and its natural religious and far-right allies of about 65 of the 120 seats in the 25th Knesset.

According to the Central Election Committee (CEC), the final voter turnout in yesterday’s national elections reached 71.3% marking the highest number since 2015.

The latest available results show Likud in front place with 31 seats, followed by Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid with 24, the Religious Zionism / Otzma Yehudit alliance with 14, Defense Minister Benny Gantz’ National Unity and the Shas ultra-Orthodox factions both with 12, United Torah Judaism with 8, 5 mandates to Yisrael Beiteinu, the Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al predominantly Arab parties, Labor with 4. It is as of yet uncertain whether the leftwing Meretz or Arab Balad parties will reach the 3.25% threshold.

We have won a huge vote of confidence from the people of Israel,” a smiling Netanyahu told cheering supporters at party election headquarters. “We are on the brink of a very big victory.”

As he vowed to form a “stable, national government,” the crowd interrupted him singing “Bibi, Bib, King of Israel!”

“The people want a different way. They want security,” Netanyahu said, “they want power, not weakness … they want diplomatic wisdom, but with firmness.”

Official results have yet to be issued for Israel’s fifth election in less than four years, and there is a possibility of a slight shift as the ballot count trickles in. It nevertheless remains unlikely there will be a major change from the nearly completed tally that indicates a triumphant return by Netanyahu to the premiership he left merely 18 months ago.

The record 12-year reign of Israel’s longest serving prime minister ended in June 2021 when centrist Lapid managed to stitch together an unlikely coalition government of liberals, rightists and Arab parties. The fragile alliance diverse parties unraveled a year into its rule.

Lapid has stopped short of conceding the election, saying he will wait until the final count.

Netanyahu is relying on support from far-right leader Bezalel Smotrich and ultra-nationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Religious Zionism list, now set to be the third-largest party. The prospect of a government including Ben-Gvir risks alarming allies including Washington due to his former membership in the Kach group on both Israeli and United States terrorism watchlists.

In an apparent attempt to calm such fears, Netanyahu, who in 2020 forged formal diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain as part of the Abraham Accords, said a government under his leadership would act responsibly, avoid “unnecessary adventures” and “expand the circle of peace.”

CEC Chairman and Supreme Court Justice Issac Amit is expected to present the final results to President Isaac Herzog next week. He has until 17 November to task the candidate most likely to build a viable 37th government to begin coalition negotiations.

The current Opposition Leader’s possible comeback has nonetheless reinforced Palestinian skepticism that a political solution to the conflict is on the horizon in the wake of a political campaign held amid increasing violence in the West Bank, marked by near-daily raids and clashes.

In the latest act of violence, an IDF officer in his 20s sustained severe injuries this morning after a Palestinian terrorist rammed his car into a West Bank checkpoint. After exiting the vehicle, the assailant attempted to stab the wounded soldier before being shot dead by nearby troops.