Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has swept past its rivals, securing 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, defying predictions by numerous exit polls that failed to estimate the turnout in support of the party. With nearly all votes counted by early Wednesday, Netanyahu called for the formation of a “strong, stable government” in the country, according to media reports.
“Reality isn't taking a break. The citizens of Israel expect us to quickly put together a leadership that will work for the sake of the country's security, economy, and society as we promised to do, and that is what I will do,” Netanyahu told a crowd of Likud supporters on Wednesday, according to a report by the Jerusalem Post. The results bring Netanyahu, who is already the second-longest serving prime minister of the country, closer to becoming the longest serving leader of Israel.
However, since all parties have fallen short of the required 61-seat majority in parliament, an intensive round of negotiations to form a coalition government has now begun, and would be completed within two to three weeks, the Jerusalem Post reported, citing a statement released by the prime minister’s office. Netanyahu has reportedly begun talks with leaders of other right-wing parties like Yisrael Beiteinu and Bayit Yehudi.
Meanwhile, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, leaders of the centre-left Zionist Union, which secured 24 seats, conceded defeat and vowed to continue their fight.
“This is not an easy morning for us and for those who believe in our way. We will lead the fight, together with our partners in Knesset, for the values believe in. We will fight on behalf of the citizens of Israel for social justice, diplomatic horizon, equality and democracy in hope that we can maintain a just, safe Jewish and democratic state,” Herzog and Livni said, according to a report by Haaretz.
Netanyhu’s victory is unlikely to be greeted with joy in the Palestinian territories and the White House. In recent weeks, the leader of the Likud party has taken an increasingly aggressive stance against the establishment of a Palestinian state, pitching the prime minister against the U.S. government, which recently reiterated its commitment to a two-state solution. Netanyhu’s relations with U.S. President Barack Obama also hit a new low after he accepted an invitation by House Speaker John Boehner to address the U.S. Congress.
However, as Roger Cohen from the New York Times wrote, Netanyahu’s victory reveals deep divisions within Israeli society, reflecting the viewpoint of those who have given up on the two-state solution.
Shortly after it became clear that Netanyahu would form the next government, Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian negotiator, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the results would “accelerate … and intensify” Palestinian efforts to join the International Criminal Court.