Netanyahu wins his fifth term as Gantz concedes

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HQ following Netanyahu's victory announcement. PHOTO: Hindustan Times
Benjamin Netanyahu has already begun to broker deals with
religious and far-right parties

Benjamin Netanyahu is set to serve a fifth term as Israel’s prime minister after his main rival, Gantz, admitted he had lost the election.

With 97% of votes counted, Netanyahu’s Likud party and the Blue and White party, led by former army general Benny Gantz, had tied with 35 seats each in the 120-seat house, the Knesset. However, the rightwing bloc that Netanyahu is part ofhad 65 in total, a comfortable majority.

“We respect the decision of the people,” Gantz said in a televised statement on Wednesday evening, adding that Blue and White had “founded a true alternative rule to Netanyahu”.

His colleague, Yair Lapid, said while the party “didn’t win in this round, we will make Likud’s life hell in the opposition”.

Despite three corruption indictments, the prime minister emerged as the winner from a tight election race to continue his 10-year stretch in high office.

Netanyahu has seemingly begun to broker deals with religious and far-right parties to form Israel’s next government. The 69-year-old former commando, who first became prime minister in 1996, is on track to become Israel’s longest-ever serving leader this summer.

Several world leaders, mainly nationalists, rushed to congratulate Netanyahu.

A coalition of Likud and several smaller nationalist, religious and far-right parties would keep Netanyahu in power

Netanyahu tweeted on Wednesday that Trump had called him to congratulate him on his re-election for a fifth term. “The two leaders agreed to continue working in the coming years in the closest way for Israel and the United States,” Netanyahu said in the statement on his Twitter account.

And while Netanyahu will have to offer concessions – such as ministerial posts – to rightwing parties to back him, the religious factions he already has agreements with gained seats. Meanwhile, some of his more demanding ultranationalist allies lost their bargaining power. Unofficial results showed former education minister Naftali Bennett, a political partner of necessity rather than choice, may not make it back into the Knesset.

Now the election is over, Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, is freed of the political pressure not to influence the vote with potentially damning, but unproved, case details. Therefore, the process of the indictments is expected to gather pace and a pre-trial hearing in which Netanyahu can defend himself will start.

Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at his Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Though not legally required to resign if formally charged, Netanyahu could lose allies if he is proven guilty. But Israeli media also reported his coalition partners might push through a law to give him immunity.

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