image Photo: Flash90

Netanyahu declares victory

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proclaimed his Likud party the winner of the national election for the country’s 36th government.

“Citizens of Israel – thank you!” Netanyahu wrote in Hebrew, adding, “You have bestowed a huge victory on the right-wing and the Likud under my leadership. The Likud is larger than the next party by a massive margin.”

He later underscored in another Tweet that, “It is obvious that a clear majority of Israelis are right-wing and they want a strong and stable right-wing government that will protect the economy of Israel, the security of Israel and the land of Israel. This is what we will do. We love you!”

During an earlier celebratory speech to supporters at party headquarters in Jerusalem last night after exit polls showed his party was the top finisher in yesterday’s polling, Netanyahu called the results “a great achievement.”

About 90% of the votes have been counted, although the final outcome is not expected to be finalized until most likely on Friday.

The Central Elections Committee count so far reveals that Likud currently holds 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset. The centrist Yesh Atid faction took second place with 17, followed by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party at 9, while religious United Torah Judaism, rightwing Yamina, leftwing Labor and conservative Yisrael Beiteinu garnered 7 each. The centrist Blue and White, far-right Religious Zionism, rightwing New Hope and Arab Joint List captured 6, the left-wing Meretz has 5, and the United Arab List squeaked over the electoral threshold with 4.

Even though Likud has emerged as the largest party, Netanyahu still lacks a clear path to cobbling together a 61-seat majority needed to form a viable coalition. According to current estimates, the Likud actually 6 lost seats since the previous March election.

Amended forecasts indicate a looming possible deadlock even with the potential support of ultranationalist Yamina rival and former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, with almost an even split between Netanyahu’s likely opponents and supporters in the parliament.

Former Kadima Knesset Member and current President of the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute think tank Yohanan Plesner said the exit polls reveal a polarized nation and that yet another national election remains a real option.

“At the same time, if Bennett joins his coalition, Netanyahu is closer than ever to a narrow government including the most extreme elements of Israeli society,” Plesner said.

Unless coalition-building talks, which have followed every election Israel has held since its creation in 1948, are successful – Israel faces another unwanted round of voting in a few months’ time – which would be its 5th since April 2019.