TEL AVIV – Just over a year after his ouster, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked on the brink of a political comeback in Tuesday’s election with the help of a far-right party led by one of the country’s most extreme politicians.
Israeli exit polls indicated that the bloc led by Netanyahu won a narrow majority in the 120-member parliament, while the outgoing coalition, led by Prime Minister Yair Lapid, was expected to win 54 seats.
Election officials worked all night counting votes. Early on Wednesday, nearly 45% of the votes had been counted and the final result remained unclear.
If the forecasts hold up, that would be a remarkable turnaround for Netanyahu, who had been Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and whose 15-year term was ended last year by an unusual coalition of opposition parties.
‘Nothing is guaranteed’
The coalition that Netanyahu . dethroned collapsed in June amid ideological differences, plunging Israel into its fifth election in less than four years — opening the door to a possible return by Netanyahu, 73, who is also on trial on corruption charges.
“I will replace this government, I hope – although nothing is guaranteed,” he said in an interview on Oct. 18.
Netanyahu’s hopes of forming a 61-seat majority government rest in part on the support of the far-right Jewish Power Party (Otzma Yehudit).
Once shunned by Israel’s political mainstream, Jewish Power and other far-right parties are enjoying unprecedented popularity heading into this election.
Most polls showed they won up to 10% of the seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. If that projection holds, it would make them the third-largest faction in parliament and give them significant leverage in potential coalition negotiations with Netanyahu.
It would also likely mean a cabinet post for Itamar Ben Gvir, the incendiary leader of Jewish Power. Among other things, he supports the deportation of Arab citizens who are considered “disloyal” to Israel.