Benjamin Netanyahu secures path to victory in Israeli election; corruption allegations remain
JERUSALEM Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled off a squeaker of a win in Israel’s election, declaring victory early Wednesday as vote tallies showed his Likud party will be able to form a majority coalition with smaller right-wing parties to control the nation’s parliament.
“The right-wing bloc led by Likud won clearly,” Mr. Netanyahu told supporters after a whirlwind night of vote counting had led many to believe that former military chief Benjamin “Benny” Gantz and his new center-left Blue and White party were on the verge of beating the prime minister.
While Blue and White ultimately won the same number of parliamentary seats as Likud, pundits on all sides agree it’s the coalition factor that counts, and Mr. Netanyahu, who has held power here for the past decade, already has one lined up to stay on for a fourth consecutive term.
“I’ll begin forming a right-wing government with our natural partners,” he said told supporters, while also thanking Israelis “for their trust.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s victory comes against sharp criticism from Palestinians who say the prime minister has brought on an anti-peace process shift to the right across Israel in recent years. It also comes amid soaring frustration on the Israeli left that the prime minister has not been toppled by mounting corruption accusations over the past year.
Mr. Gantz, who’s Blue and White party brought the most significant challenge against Mr. Netanyahu, had appeared sure of victory as initial exit polls came in late Tuesday night.
“We won!” read a statement circulated by Blue and White.
But as official counts trickled in during the wee hours, it became clear that the 69-year-old Mr. Netanyahu and Likud would retain power.
“There was a moment last night when Blue and White thought they might be able to pull together a coalition. But as the exit poll picture became more clear, reality set in,” said Jonathan Schanzer, an analyst with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has been in Israel this week for the elections.
“The lesser right-wing parties will give Netanyahu another term in office,” Mr. Schanzer told The Washington Times. “Unless something dramatic transpires, Gantz will be unable to assemble enough seats for a 61-seat majority.”
There does remain some uncertainty over exactly what the Likud-led coalition will look like. Some political analysts have opined Blue and White or at least some of Mr. Gantz’s running partners could actually end up in the coalition through unexpected political deal-making to come.
Mr. Schanzer argued Wednesday that such a scenario is “highly unlikely.”