Netanyahu claims victory in Israel election but majority uncertain

WION Web Team
Jerusalem, Israel Published: Mar 24, 2021, 07:50 AM(IST)

Netanyahu claims win Photograph:( AFP )

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Projections based on exit polls from Israel's three leading broadcasters also have showed Netanyahu's right-wing Likud winning the most seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed victory following Israel's fourth election in less than two years. The country's longest serving premier, however, may again struggle to form a governing majority.

Projections based on exit polls from Israel's three leading broadcasters also have showed Netanyahu's right-wing Likud winning the most seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. 

Netanyahu had campaigned on a world-leading coronavirus vaccination effort that has already inoculated roughly half of Israel's roughly nine million people, a pace envied by much of the world. 

He described Tuesday's projected results as a "huge win for the right" and his Likud party. "I will reach out to all elected officials who share our principles. I will not exclude anyone," he told supporters. 

If the projections reflect the final results expected later this week, Likud could win 30 or 31 seats. Adding Likud's hawkish, religious allies, the pro-Netanyahu camp could control more than 50 seats. 

But his only path to a viable right-wing coalition appears to rest on a deal with his estranged former protege Naftali Bennett, who has not ruled out joining a bloc opposed to the premier.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, a former television anchor whose centrist Yesh Atid party looked set to place a second behind Likud, claimed the anti-Netanyahu bloc had a path to a majority.

Numbers were continuing to shift early Wednesday and it remained possible that Netanyahu would fall short of a majority even with Bennett's support.

Lapid said he has "started speaking to party leaders and we'll wait for the results but we'll do everything to create a sane government in Israel."

Even if Bennett's projected seven seats technically enable Netanyahu to cobble together a government, there is no guarantee the two will unite.

Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to be indicted in office after being formally charged last year with corruption, an allegation he denies.

Netanyahu has said he will not block the trial and looks forward to being exonerated, but critics suspect that if he forms a majority, he may seek parliamentary action to delay or end the process.

A Netanyahu coalition will also require alignment with a new far-right extremist alliance called Religious Zionism, which is projected to win between six and seven seats.

That means the bloc will send to parliament Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has voiced admiration for the mass-murderer of 29 Palestinian worshippers in Hebron in 1994, Baruch Goldstein.

Tuesday's vote was forced on Israelis after Netanyahu triggered the collapse of a unity government he had formed last year with former military chief Benny Gantz, his main challenger in three previous, inconclusive elections.

Gantz is projected to win seven or eight seats in Tuesday's election, outperforming expectations but still a far fall from a year ago, when he was Netanyahu's main challenger. 

(with inputs from agencies)

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