Israel’s conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared headed for a record fifth term Wednesday after his main challenger Benny Gantz, a centrist former military chief, conceded the hard-fought election.
With nearly all the votes counted Wednesday, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party was on course to win a similar amount of seats to Gantz’s Blue and White alliance. But because Likud and its allies in Israel’s Knesset – or national legislature – were set to command an overall majority in parliament, Netanyahu secured the first chance to form a new coalition government.
Gantz said while his party did not win, he and his allies would remain a political force.
“We will stand together,” Gantz said. “This is my first day of the next decade in which I will serve the people every way I can.”
The Blue and White party’s No. 2 official, Yair Lapid, was more blunt.
“We will make Likud’s life hell in the opposition,” Lapid said Wednesday evening.
Israel elections usually end in coalition governments. Netanyahu was expected to try to form a pact in the 120-seat Knesset with nationalist and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, local media reported, although the process could take weeks of political negotiations before the composition of a new ruling coalition is known.
“It’s a night of tremendous victory,” Netanyahu told supporters early Wednesday. “I was very moved that the nation of Israel once again entrusted me for the fifth time, and with an even greater trust.”
He said that talks about forming a new coalition had begun.
“I want to make it clear, it will be a right-wing government, but I intend to be the prime minister of all Israeli citizens, right or left, Jews and non-Jews alike,” he said.