(Photo credit: Amir Levy/Getty Images)
With 94 percent of votes counted following Tuesday’s elections in Israel, officials from the party of outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid told media on 3 November that preparations were underway for a “smooth and responsible transfer of power.”
Former premier Benjamin Netanyahu has been all but confirmed as the winner of Israel’s fifth round of elections in four years, with his far-right coalition set to win a commanding 65 out of 120 Knesset seats.
Netanyahu’s Likud party has so far won 32 Knesset seats, which will be cobbled together with those won by the United Torah Judaism party (eight seats), the Sephardi Orthodox Shas party (11 seats), and the Religious Zionism alliance (14 seats).
“We are close to a big victory,” he told jubilant supporters in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
On the same day, President Isaac Herzog’s office said he will begin meeting with representatives from the parties to hear their recommendations for prime minister next week, once election results are finalized and certified.
With the possibility of taking office for a third time with a powerful majority behind him, Netanyahu is now expected to haggle with ultra-nationalists like Itamar Ben Gvir over policy goals and cabinet posts to secure the coalition’s support.
A day ahead of the election, Netanyahu said Ben Gvir is a viable candidate for police minister. “I don’t disqualify him [for the post of public security minister],” Netanyahu told Army Radio on Monday.
If appointed public security minister, Ben Gvir would be responsible for keeping the peace at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where he has led dozens of violent incursions accompanied by extremist settler groups.
As results started to trickle in on Tuesday, Ben Gvir was welcomed to his party’s headquarters with chants of “death to terrorists” – really meaning “death to Arabs.”
The racist lawmaker has made headlines over the past year not only for leading raids into Al-Aqsa, but also for brandishing his gun in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem and urging settlers to “shoot” Palestinians.
“It’s okay to kill innocent civilians and destroy Gaza,” Ben Gvir said in 2014.
Israeli media reports also indicate that the leader of the Sephardi Orthodox Shas, Aryeh Deri, may be “rewarded” for his loyalty to Netanyahu with the position of finance minister.
Deri has previously been indicted for tax offenses and for accepting bribes. Netanyahu himself also is currently charged with multiple counts of corruption, with investigations and legal proceedings ongoing.