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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Israel’s Netanyahu Makes Comeback As Israeli Prime Minister Lapid Admits Defeat

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TEL AVIV — Bibi is back.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid admitted his defeat to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by nearly all votes counted on Thursday.

“The State of Israel is beyond any political consideration,” said Lapid, who served as interim prime minister for four months. “I wish Netanyahu every success, for the sake of the people of Israel and the State of Israel.”

Now, the man who has dominated Israeli politics for more than a decade seems sure to make a dramatic return to power with the help of far-right parties that hit the mainstream after the country’s last election.

Lapid made the announcement just before the publication of the final results, which showed that the Netanyahu-led bloc won 64 of the 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. The results will not only ensure Netanyahu’s comeback, but also underscore the country’s shift to the right, causing a headache for the United States and further setting aside hopes for peace with the Palestinians.

“We have gained tremendous confidence and we are on the brink of a very big victory,” Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, told his supporters cheering during an early morning speech at a victory rally in Jerusalem on Tuesday. .

Netanyahu, on trial, was charged with corruption,

The 73-year-old is the country’s longest-serving leader, having served in office for a total of 15 years in two separate terms. But the government he is likely to form would be the most right-wing in Israeli history.

Far-right parties that once found themselves in the margins have now won more than 10% of seats in parliament – ​​and are likely to secure cabinet seats as well.

Among them is Jewish Power, the ideological descendant of an extremist group that was once on the US terrorist list. Its leader, Itamar Ben Gvir, was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terrorist group and inciting racism when he held anti-Arab signs during a protest.

“I will work for all of Israel, even for those who hate me,” Ben Gvir told his supporters.

Ben Gvir said throughout the campaign that one of his top priorities in the government would be easing deployment rules for Israeli troops, making it easier for them to use deadly force against Palestinians who attack them with rocks or incendiary bombs.

According to the United Nations, 2022 is already on track to be the bloodiest year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2005. About 125 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire so far this year. Some were shot while carrying out attacks on Israelis, others were killed during protests or other situations.

About 25 Israelis and foreigners have been killed in Palestinian attacks this year.

The Biden administration has said it is willing to cooperate with an Israeli government of any configuration.

Tom Nides, the US ambassador to Israel, said in a statement on Wednesday that he was “glad at such a strong turnout”. He added that he looked forward to “continuing to work with the Israeli government on our shared interests and values.”

But the electoral success of the far right poses a potential diplomatic challenge to the White House. US officials may have to decide whether to meet Israeli ministers who have a long history of extremism.

The official position of the Biden administration is that it supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with an independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.

However, the government has devoted little diplomatic energy to the issue, focusing instead on the war in Ukraine, climate change and tensions with China.

There have been no substantial Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in years, and Palestinian officials have said this is unlikely to change under a new right-wing government.

“We had no illusions that Israeli elections would produce a partner for peace,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said in a statement on Tuesday.

Netanyahu’s victory marks the end of one of the most unusual governments in Israel’s history. A coalition of left, right and center parties united last summer to oust Netanyahu from power, leaving Netanyahu on trial on corruption charges he denies and for the first time an Arab party in Israel’s ruling coalition has recorded.

During the campaign trail, Ben Gvir and other far-right leaders often brought up the presence of the Arab party to motivate their supporters.

Lapid will remain in office until coalition talks are completed. His centrist Yesh Atid party came second in the election behind Netanyahu’s Likud.

The election resulted in a decisive defeat for Israel’s left. The Labor Party, which dominated Israeli politics in the early decades, appeared to have won just four seats this week.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed.

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