Netanyahu seems close to victory in Israel elections

TEL AVIV, Israel (HPD) — Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared headed for election victory on Wednesday. With 85% of the general election ballots counted, he and his far-right allies would win a sizable majority in parliament.

The count is still ongoing and the results are not final. But if early indications are correct, Israel is likely to have one of its most right-wing governments, bolstered by the strong performance of the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionist Party, whose members employ inflammatory rhetoric against Arabs and LGBTQ people.

Early results pointed to a continuation of the shift to the right in the Israeli electorate, further dampening hopes of peace with the Palestinians and setting the stage for a possible conflict with the US government and its supporters there.

The tally also showed that Netanyahu would have outdone his critics, who claimed he was unfit to govern while on trial for corruption and refused to form a government with him. His associates have promised to help him avoid possible conviction.

“We are on the verge of a very big victory,” Netanyahu, 73, told supporters at a rally in Jerusalem early on Wednesday. “I will establish a nationalist government that will look after all Israeli citizens without exception.”

The electoral authorities worked throughout the night and, by early Wednesday morning, almost 85% of the ballots had been counted. The vote, like the previous ones, was very close, but the indicators showed that Netanyahu would return as prime minister with a firm majority among the 120 seats in the Israeli parliament.

Final results are expected on Friday. The hundreds of thousands of remaining ballots — mostly from those who voted in places far from home, such as nursing homes — require an additional verification process, which takes time. These could add to those of Netanyahu’s opponents and reduce the breadth of his majority.

With Netanyahu and his allies expected to win more than the 61 seats needed to form a government, the protracted political crisis could end, though the nation is as divided as ever.

If Netanyahu’s allies are victorious, negotiations to put together a stable governing coalition could take weeks.

Netanyahu was Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, serving 12 consecutive years and 15 in total, before being replaced last year by a diverse coalition led by centrist Yair Lapid.

But the group formed by Lapid, which included the first Arab formation in an Israeli government, was affected by internal conflicts and collapsed after little more than a year in power. According to the polls, these formations would obtain only 54 seats.

Early Wednesday, Lapid insisted to his supporters that the electoral contest was not yet decided.

“Until the last envelope is counted, nothing is over and nothing is final,” he said.

The best result of the night was that of the Religious Zionist Party, of the far-right legislator Ben-Gvir, who seemed to emerge as the third most voted force.

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Associated Press writers Ilan Ben Zion and Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Joseph Krauss in Ottawa, Canada, contributed to this report.

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