Admitting defeat, Lapid wishes Netanyahu luck ‘for the sake of the Israeli people’

Admitting defeat, Lapid wishes Netanyahu luck ‘for the sake of the Israeli people’

As the final thousands of votes were tallied Thursday night, Prime Minister Yair Lapid called on opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu to concede the race and congratulate him on his election win.

“The State of Israel is above any political considerations,” Lapid said in a statement. “I wish Netanyahu the best of luck to the people of Israel and the State of Israel.”

Lapid’s office said the outgoing prime minister told Netanyahu that he had ordered all branches of his office to prepare for an orderly transfer of power.

With all ballots counted after Israel’s national election on Tuesday, Netanyahu will control not only the largest party in the Knesset, but is poised to return to power by leading a 64-member majority bloc of his religious and right-wing allies in the 120-member Knesset.

Netanyahu’s Likud will be the largest party in the Knesset, but its biggest success in the election has been the rise of Netanyahu’s allied, far-right faction of religious Zionism, which includes the Otzma Yehudit party of Itamar Ben Gvir, who is barred from serving in the IDF because of his extremist activities and positions, and anti -LGBT Noam party.

The last of the nearly 4.8 million votes cast by Israeli citizens were counted by Thursday evening, and the final “double envelope” votes confirm that the left Meretz did not want to cross the threshold to enter the Knesset, and slightly adjust the distribution of seats to move one seat from Likud to Yisrael Beyten.

Otzma party leader Yehudit Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to supporters at the party’s campaign headquarters in Jerusalem at the end of election day, November 1, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The “double envelope” votes counted on Thursday were those cast by IDF soldiers on base, those in hospitals or prisons, emissaries serving Israel abroad and people using accessible polling stations. Their counting takes longer because the Central Election Commission must first ensure that such voters did not vote at their officially registered polling station.

The final tally gives Likud 32 seats, Yesh Atid 24, Religious Zionism 14, National Unity 12, Shas 11, United Torah Judaism 7, Yisrael Beytenu 6, Ra’am 5, Hadash-Ta’al 5 and Labor 4.

A bloc of parties loyal to Netanyahu — Likud, Religious Zionism, Shas and UTJ — will control 64 seats, while the parties that made up the outgoing government will control 51 seats, as Hadash-Ta’al has vowed not to join any party.

When it comes to the votes actually cast, only 48% went to the parties in the predicted future right-wing government. But the Netanyahu-led bloc secured far more seats as both the Arab nationalist Balad party and Meretz failed to pass the 3.25 percent threshold, wiping out more than 275,000 votes combined.

While Netanyahu personally intervened to ensure that the far-right parties that supported him ran on a joint list in this election, Labor repeatedly resisted Lapid’s efforts to broker a merger with Meretz, while Balad split from Hadash-Ta ‘ala just before the closing of party registration.

The final results mark a stunning comeback for Netanyahu, who is currently on trial on three corruption charges, and are likely to end four years of political stalemate that has dragged the country through a series of grueling elections.

All eyes are now expected to turn to coalition building, with Netanyahu reportedly aiming to wrap up negotiations within two weeks and quickly return to his former post.

Netanyahu will not formally receive the mandate until sometime next week, after President Isaac Herzog meets with the leaders of each party to hear their recommendations on who should form the next coalition.

Herzog has until November 16 to announce which MP he will appoint to form the government, although he can do so earlier. In previous rounds, party consultations at the president’s residence usually lasted two days. Herzog may hold an additional round of consultations if deemed necessary, but most expect the process to be technical and Netanyahu to easily win approval from the president.

Unofficially, Netanyahu’s allies have already begun negotiations with Shasa, United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism to coordinate all their demands for ministerial portfolios and other demands.

While the three parties are staunch supporters, Netanyahu will still have to haggle with them over policy goals and cabinet positions to secure their support, which could involve complicated negotiations in areas where the factions have far-reaching demands or disagree on .

Illustrative: Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) talks with Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri during a meeting in Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Still, Netanyahu is said to be hoping to balance the demands of the various factions to keep the coalition stable.

According to Hebrew media reports, Netanyahu has assigned Likud MK Yariv Levin, an experienced negotiator, to lead the negotiations, and he has already begun reaching out to the factions to begin talks. Speculation is already rife about potential future government positions for the four parties expected to form the next coalition.

Shas and UTJ are expected to seek to roll back the current government’s reforms, including taxes on sugary drinks and single-use plastic products, as well as reforms to the kosher food certification system. Both Shas’ Aryeh Deri and UTJ’s Yitzhak Goldknopf have shown interest in the Finance Ministry, although Deri may also consider a return to the Interior Ministry.

Netanyahu’s far-right allies in the Religious Zionist Party are expected to demand far-reaching judicial reforms and prominent ministerial positions. Ben Gvir said he would demand the Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the police.

Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich has expressed interest in the ministries of finance, justice and especially defense, although it is thought more likely that Netanyahu will give the latter role to MK Yoav Gallant, a former top general in the Israel Defense Forces.

Luke Tress and the Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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