Benjamin Netanyahu Wins Another Shot at Leading Israel as Lapid Concedes

Thursday - 03/11/2022 20:23 Author: Editors Desk Source: WSJ:
Election results show that former prime minister and his allies have secured parliamentary majority
Benjamin Netanyahu, center, is likely to form one of the most right-wing and religious governing coalitions in Israel’s history. PHOTO: JINI/ZUMA PRESS
Benjamin Netanyahu, center, is likely to form one of the most right-wing and religious governing coalitions in Israel’s history. PHOTO: JINI/ZUMA PRESS

TEL AVIV—Benjamin Netanyahu won a decisive victory in the country’s fifth election in under four years, vote results showed on Thursday, pulling off a political comeback by successfully uniting his right-wing and religious nationalist bloc.

Mr. Netanyahu rode a wave of ultranationalist sentiment a little over a year after violence erupted between Arabs and Jews in the streets of Israeli cities. Mr. Netanyahu rallied his base in daily campaign appearances across the country, often from the back of a delivery truck outfitted as a mobile campaign stage called the Bibi-bus, reinforcing his message that his opponents were a threat to the safety of Jewish Israelis.

Mr. Netanyahu thanked his supporters in a statement Thursday night. “Together, we brought about a huge victory for the State of Israel,” he said. 

Yair Lapid, the centrist caretaker prime minister who took over after the previous government collapsed in the summer, couldn’t unite a group of centrist, left-wing and Arab parties, two of which didn’t win enough votes to pass the electoral threshold required to sit in Parliament. 

Mr. Lapid conceded Thursday night to Mr. Netanyahu. “I wish Netanyahu success, for the sake of the people of Israel and the State of Israel,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party won 32 seats and his right-wing religious and nationalist bloc in total won 64 in the 120-seat parliament, or Knesset, according to Israel’s Central Elections Committee.

Mr. Lapid’s Yesh Atid party won 24 seats and his bloc of right-wing, left-wing and Arab parties secured 51. An alliance of communists and Palestinian nationalists that has said it won’t join any government won another five seats.

The popular vote was evenly split with about 49% of the vote going to Mr. Netanyahu and 49% going to his opponents.

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute think tank, said Mr. Netanyahu won because he perfectly orchestrated a bloc that would carry him to power. 

“He didn’t waste one vote,” Mr. Plesner said. “As opposed to the anti-Netanyahu bloc that achieved a similar number of votes but 10 seats less in the Knesset because of lousy organization and political architecture.”

The results represent a stunning return to power for Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, who also remains a deeply divisive figure. He is beloved by many Israelis who refer to him as the “King of Israel.” But many Israelis feel he has been in power for too long and don’t believe he should be prime minister while undergoing a trial for corruption charges that he denies.

His coalition allies say they will pass legislation that will make him immune from prosecution. Mr. Netanyahu insists that any changes to the law wouldn’t be retroactively applied to his trial.

Even if convicted, Mr. Netanyahu could remain as prime minister until the appeals process is finished. Legal analysts say that could take three to five years.

While Mr. Netanyahu is known by many abroad as a skillful diplomat and orator, in Israel it is his shrewd political skills that have kept him atop his country’s leadership longer than anyone before him. Mr. Netanyahu has been elected prime minister five times over the course of 15 years. 

His success in this election was propelled by a surge in popularity for ultranationalist religious lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, who ran on a promise to impose tougher measures against Palestinians in the West Bank and Arab citizens of Israel who engage in violence against Jews. Mr. Ben-Gvir’s national religious alliance won 14 seats, which would make it the third-largest party in the Knesset, according to the Central Elections Committee.

Ultranationalist religious lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir has seen a surge in popularity.PHOTO: JALAA MAREY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Ultranationalist religious lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir has seen a surge in popularity.PHOTO: JALAA MAREY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

“There’s fear in the streets and he will deal with it,” said Jerusalemite Avishai Katz, 18, who voted for Mr. Ben-Gvir. “He’s the only one who cares about terrorism, about sovereignty.” 

Mr. Netanyahu was able to capitalize on Mr. Ben-Gvir’s rising popularity by orchestrating an alliance of ultranationalist parties. Messrs. Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir both attacked their opponents for allowing an Islamist party to join the previous government, the first time an Arab party had done so in the state’s history. Both men charged that a government with an Arab party could never fight terrorism aggressively. 

Over several months as a caretaker prime minister, Mr. Lapid built his international profile but failed to unite the left. Instead of joining forces with bigger parties, two smaller left-of-center parties ran on their own and appear to have badly miscalculated, analysts said.

On Thursday, the left-wing Meretz party and Balad, an Arab party, had about 3% of the vote each—just below the threshold of 3.25% that parties need to get into the Knesset. Had they signed agreements with larger parties, their votes could have helped the anti-Netanyahu bloc get enough seats to deny Mr. Netanyahu power, but instead those votes are discarded. 

“It’s true that Netanyahu was wise enough to crystallize his bloc but the left lost the elections more than Netanyahu won the elections,” said Aviv Bushinsky, a former aide to Mr. Netanyahu. 

For Meretz, it will be the first time the party won’t be sitting in the Knesset since it was formed in 1992. The Labor Party, one of the country’s founding political parties, barely passed the electoral threshold and received four seats, the minimum number.

In 2019, when Balad joined forces with other Arab parties, they received 15 seats and were the third-largest party in the Knesset. In Tuesday’s election, all Arab-led parties together garnered just 10 seats. 

For many Israelis on the left, the election results were devastating. Mr. Ben-Gvir’s alliance has promised to weaken the nation’s judicial branch in favor of giving more power to elected officials, and many on the left view him as a racist. Mr. Ben-Gvir has denied he is a racist.

Natalie Ginsburg, an 83-year-old from Jerusalem, said she feels “absolutely awful” about the election results. Ms. Ginsburg has protested in East Jerusalem and inside the West Bank against the Israeli occupation and is concerned that a government that includes Mr. Ben-Gvir could crack down violently on dissenters like her. She is also worried about the rights of women and LGBT Israelis.

“They are certainly from the Dark Ages in every way, not only where the Palestinians are concerned,” said Ms. Ginsburg, who voted for Meretz.

In the coming days, Israeli President Isaac Herzog is set to choose the leader he believes has the best chance of assembling a governing coalition, usually the head of the party that wins the most seats or receives the most recommendations to form a government from fellow lawmakers. That person has up to six weeks to try to cobble together a majority coalition that includes the support of smaller parties.

Tuesday’s election was the fifth time Israelis have gone to the polls since 2019. In a sign of the stakes involved, all sides urged their bases to come out and vote in large numbers. About 71.3% of eligible voters headed to the ballot box, the highest tally since 2015, according to the Central Elections Committee.

Dov Lieber and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this article.

Write to Shayndi Raice at

Appeared in the November 4, 2022, print edition as 'Netanyahu Gains a New Shot to Lead'.


 Keywords: Israel

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