Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Israel's Netanyahu set for comeback with far-right help

Israel's Netanyahu set for comeback with far-right help

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu held a nearly unassailable lead Thursday with vote counting almost complete following this week's election, setting him up to form what may be the most right-wing government in Israeli history.

With more than 90 percent of ballots counted, according to the Central Elections Committee, the results so far put former premier Netanyahu's right-wing bloc ahead in the country's fifth election in four years.

Caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, a bitter Netanyahu rival, has not yet conceded defeat, telling supporters of his centrist Yesh Atid party that the country needed to wait until all votes were counted.

As the remaining ballots were being tallied, the bloc that supports Netanyahu still held 65 seats. The small left-wing Meretz party was hovering around the 3.25 percent threshold needed to secure a minimum four parliament seats.

If Meretz crosses the line, it could alter Netanyahu's margin of victory, but would not necessarily threaten his majority.

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

 

- Coalition talks -

Netanyahu has already begun talks with coalition partners on the make-up of a new government, Israeli media reported, but there was no immediate confirmation from his Likud party.

If the final results confirm Netanyahu's victory, President Isaac Herzog will next week give him 42 days to form a government.

The veteran hawk, who has served as premier for longer than anyone in Israel's history, will then be tasked with sharing out cabinet posts with his coalition partners.

Whatever the final result, Ben-Gvir was described as "the big winner of this election" by politics lecturer Julia Elad-Strenger of Israel's Bar-Ilan University.

"He took from the haredim (ultra-Orthodox), from the Likud, of course new young voters and people who had no one to vote for," Elad-Strenger said.

The US State Department expressed veiled concern over the prospect of far-right ministers in a future coalition government.

Religious Zionism co-leader Bezalel Smotrich has indicated he wants the defence ministry, likely an uncomfortable request for Netanyahu who has branded himself as the guardian of Israel's security during decades in public life.