His opponent may have declared victory, and he may be facing corruption charges, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to hold onto power for a record fifth term and form a right-wing coalition government.
With 95 percent of the votes counted as of Wednesday morning, Netanyahu’s Likud Party was neck and neck with Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party on 35 seats, but the incumbent appears to have a clearer path to form a coalition government with right-wing and nationalist parties.
“It will be a right-wing government, but I will be prime minister for all,” Netanyahu told supporters Wednesday morning. “I'm very touched that the people of Israel gave me their vote of confidence for the fifth time and an even bigger vote of confidence than previous elections.”
Early exit polls on Tuesday had suggested that former military general Gantz could win a surprise victory, leading him to make a preemptive victory speech. “In elections there are losers; in elections there are winners; and we are the ones who won,” Gantz told cheering supporters.
But reality soon set in:
“It’s looking bleak, but the results are not yet final. It’s possible that there will be electoral shifts, and that we can make certain political moves,” Gantz said in a letter to party members, Haaretz reports.
The election was seen as a referendum on the 69-year-old Netanyahu, who is facing corruption allegations, but for those hoping for a change in government, his victory will end any hopes of an end of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
“They have chosen an overwhelmingly right-wing, xenophobic and anti-Palestinian parliament to represent them,” senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said Wednesday. “Israelis chose to entrench and expand apartheid.”
Who were the winners and losers?
Both Likud and Blue and White have won 35 seats each in the 120-seat Knesset, meaning neither party commands a majority.
Based on the results, it appears that right-wing parties who will support Netanyahu have won enough seats to allow the prime minister to form a coalition government with a 65-seat majority.
Overall, Israeli’s left-leaning parties struggled in the election. The biggest loser was the Labour Party, which saw its percentage of the vote fall to its lowest level ever, at just 5 percent — down from 19 percent four years ago.
But there were also problems for far-right parties. New Right, a breakaway faction led by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, two ministers in Netanyahu’s Cabinet who both hope to take his place, is unlikely to win enough votes to enter Parliament.
What happens next?
The final results are expected at some point on Wednesday. It is then up to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to assess who he thinks could form a majority government after talking to all parties involved.
Netanyahu has already been in touch with right-wing parties and most had declared their support for the 69-year-old by Tuesday night.
It could take weeks for the final make-up of the government to be known, and by that point, Netanyahu will be involved in the first pre-trial hearings of his corruption indictments.
What about Netanyahu’s criminal charges?
Netanyahu won despite facing three damning corruption indictments related to bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection.
The prime minister is alleged to have accepted gifts from wealthy businessmen and handed out favors in order to receive better press coverage. Just like his ally in Washington, Netanyahu has labeled the allegations against him as a “witch hunt.”
Reports suggest that Netanyahu will seek to convince his new coalition partners to pass legislation that would grant prime ministers immunity from prosecution while in office.
But legislation may not even be necessary.
Likud and four other allied parties, who together will control 61 seats in the Knesset, have made it clear that they will not require Netanyahu to resign if he is charged, according to the Jerusalem Post.