Israel’s Netanyahu Wins Re-election With Parliamentary Majority: Tally

April 10, 2019 Updated: April 10, 2019

JERUSALEM—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured a clear path to re-election on Wednesday, April 10, with parties on the right set to hand him a parliamentary majority, despite a close contest against his main centrist challenger, a vote tally showed.

With more than 97 percent of votes counted, Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party looked likely to muster enough support to control 65 of the Knesset’s 120 seats and be named to head the next coalition government. It would be his record fifth term as premier.

President Reuven Rivlin said on Twitter he would begin meeting next week with political parties that won parliamentary seats to hear who they support for prime minister.

At the sessions, which Rivlin said would be broadcast live “to ensure transparency,” he will then pick a party leader to try to form a coalition, giving the candidate 28 days to do so, with a two-week extension if needed.

The close and often vitriolic contest was widely seen in Israel as a referendum on Netanyahu’s character and record in the face of corruption allegations. He faces possible indictment in three graft cases, and has denied wrongdoing in all of them.

Despite that, Netanyahu gained four seats compared to his outgoing coalition government, according to a spreadsheet published by the Central Elections Committee of parties that garnered enough votes to enter the next parliament.

Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu
A combination picture shows Benny Gantz (left), leader of Blue and White party voting at a polling station in Rosh Ha’ayin and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voting at a polling station in Jerusalem during Israel’s parliamentary election on April 9, 2019. (Nir Elias, Ariel Schalit/Pool via Reuters)

“It is a night of colossal victory,” the 69-year-old Netanyahu told cheering supporters in a late-night speech at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv after Tuesday’s vote.

“He’s a magician!” the crowd chanted as fireworks flared and Netanyahu kissed his wife Sara.

Confetti falls as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara
Confetti falls as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara stand on stage after Netanyahu spoke following the announcement of exit polls in Israel’s parliamentary election at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel on April 10, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Tel Aviv Stock Exchange main indexes were up nearly 1 percent in late trading on Wednesday, displaying confidence in a veteran prime minister who has overseen a humming economy and blunted various security threats, including from Syria.

His challenger, the new Blue and White party of ex-army chief Benny Gantz, claimed a more modest victory after winning a 35-seat tie with Likud. Unless he reverses on campaign pledges to shun Netanyahu, and joins him in a broad coalition, Gantz looked destined to lead a center-left parliamentary opposition.

“The skies may look overcast…but they cannot conceal the sun of hope that we have brought to the Israeli people and society,” Gantz, 59, wrote in an open letter to supporters.

Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, and his wife Revital cast their ballots
Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, and his wife Revital cast their ballots as Israelis began voting in a parliamentary election, at a polling station in Rosh Ha’ayin, Israel on April 9, 2019. (Nir Elias/Reuters)

Should Netanyahu retain the helm, he will become the longest-serving Israeli prime minister in July, overtaking the country’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion. That could be scuppered if criminal charges are filed and force his removal.

Closer U.S.-Israel Ties

Netanyahu highlighted his close relationship with President Donald Trump, who delighted Israelis and angered Palestinians by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and moving the U.S. Embassy to the holy city last May.

Two weeks before the election, Trump signed a proclamation, with Netanyahu at his side at the White House, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

President Donald Trump (L) and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu show the proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights after a meeting outside the West Wing of the White House
President Donald Trump (L) and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu show the proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights after a meeting outside the West Wing of the White House on March 25, 2019. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In a rare turn during the race toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu further alarmed Palestinians by pledging to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected. Palestinians seek a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The last round of U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014.

Trump is expected to release his administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan after the election.

By Jeffrey Heller and Maayan Lubell

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