Thu, Mar 19, 2015 - Page 1 News List

Israeli PM Netanyahu in surprise election victory

AP, TEL AVIV, Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to his supporters at the Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party scored a resounding victory in the nation’s election, final results showed yesterday, a stunning turnaround after a tight race that had put his lengthy rule in jeopardy.

With nearly all votes counted, Likud appeared to have earned 30 out of parliament’s 120 seats and was in a position to build with relative ease a coalition government with its nationalist, religious and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies. Such a government would likely put Israel at odds with the international community over settlement construction and its opposition to Palestinian statehood, and continue clashing with the White House over hardline policies.

The election was widely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu, who has governed the nation for the past six years. Recent opinion polls indicated he was in trouble, giving main rival Isaac Herzog of the opposition Zionist Union a slight lead.

Exit polls on Tuesday showed the two sides deadlocked, but once the actual results came pouring in early yesterday Likud soared forward. The Zionist Union wound up with just 24 seats.

Given the final results, it is all but assured that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will task Netanyahu with forming a new government. Netanyahu says he hopes to do so quickly, within two to three weeks.

“Against all odds, we achieved a great victory for the Likud,” Netanyahu told supporters at his election night headquarters, declaring victory even before final results were known. “I am proud of the people of Israel, who in the moment of truth knew how to distinguish between what is important and what is peripheral, and to insist on what is important.”

Netanyahu focused his campaign primarily on security issues, while his opponents instead pledged to address the nation’s high cost of living and accused the leader of being out of touch with everyday people.

Netanyahu will likely look to battle that image now by adding to his government Moshe Kahlon, whose upstart Kulanu Party captured 10 seats with a campaign focused almost entirely on bread-and-butter economic issues. Kahlon is expected to become the nation’s next finance minister.

A union of four largely Arab-backed factions became Israel’s third-largest party — with 14 seats — and gave Israel’s Arab minority significant leverage in parliament for the first time. Ten parties in all made it into parliament.

Netanyahu’s return to power for a fourth term likely spells trouble for Middle East peace efforts and could further escalate tensions with the US.

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