TEL AVIV — Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli Prime Minister who was toppled last year after 12 consecutive years in power, is on course of making a comeback following the general election, exit polls revealed on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s election was the fifth since 2019, reports Xinhua news agency.
Exit polls of three main Israeli TV channels indicated that the country’s longest serving Prime Minister and his alliance of far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties won 61-62 seats in the 120-seat Parliament, or Knesset, suggesting they have enough seats to form a ruling coalition government.
Speaking with supporters at his campaign headquarters, Netanyahu, 73, on Tuesday night said the early results are “a good start”, and called the supporters to wait for the final results.
“We are on the brink of a very big victory,” a smiling Netanyahu told cheering supporters at his party’s election headquarters, his voice hoarse from weeks of campaigning.
Exit polls suggested his Likud party won 30 to 31 seats.
Sitting Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party was projected to gain 22-24 seats and his wider alliance to secure 54 to 55 seats, according to the exit polls.
Lapid said early Wednesday morning that it was too early to make conclusions about the final outcome.
“Nothing is decided” until the last vote is counted, said Lapid.
Neither Netanyahu nor Lapid has claimed victory yet.
The polls also showed that ultra-nationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Religious Zionism won 14-15 seats, becoming Israel’s third-largest party.
Bezalel Smotrich, chairman of the Religious Zionist Party, tweeted that the party “made history”, adding: “This is the day God made a revelation and we rejoice in it.”
Hadash-Ta’al, an alliance of two Arab parties that doesn’t support either of the blocs, is projected to win four seats, exit polls indicated.
The elections were held after repeated polls with inconclusive results that have paralysed the Israeli political system for almost four years.
Netanyahu is one of Israel’s most controversial political figures. He is a firm supporter of Israel’s settlement-building project in the West Bank, occupied since the 1967 Middle East war, reports the BBC.
Settlements there are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
He opposes the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict – a formula supported by most of the international community, including US President Joe Biden’s administration.
Netanyahu is also currently on trial for alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust — charges he fiercely denies.
His possible partners in a Likud-led coalition government have said they would reform the law, in a move which would bring a halt to his trial.
Netanyahu’s prospective alliance with ultranationalist firebrand Itamar Ben-Gvir has alarmed Palestinians and members of Israel’s minority Arabs. — IANS (Inputs added)