PM instructs his office to prepare for transfer of power

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

Final election results show Likud leader to head 64-strong right-religious bloc in 120-seat Knesset despite only narrow lead in overall vote, as Meretz, Balad fall below threshold

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu on November 2, 2022 (left); Outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov; Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu on November 2, 2022 (left); Outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov; Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

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

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

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

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

Netanyahu’s Likud will be the Knesset largest party, but the major success of the elections was the rise of the Netanyahu-allied, far-right Religious Zionism faction, which includes the Otzma Yehudit party of Itamar Ben Gvir, who was barred from IDF service because of his extremist activities and positions, and the anti-LGBT Noam party.

The last of the close to 4.8 million votes cast by Israel’s citizens were counted by Thursday evening, with the final “double envelope” votes confirming that the left-wing Meretz would not cross the threshold to enter the Knesset, and adjusting the seat allocation slightly to shift one seat from Likud to Yisrael Beytenu.

Otzma Yehudit party leader 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 Thursday were those cast by IDF soldiers on base, those in hospitals or prisons, envoys serving Israel abroad and people using accessible polling stations. They take longer to count since the Central Election Committee must first ensure that such voters did not also cast a ballot at their official 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.

The bloc of parties loyal to Netanyahu — Likud, Religious Zionism, Shas and UTJ — will control 64 seats, while those parties who made up the outgoing government control 51 seats, as Hadash-Ta’al vowed to join neither side.

When it comes to actual votes cast, just 48% went to the parties in the predicted incoming right-wing government. But the Netanyahu-led bloc secured far more seats because both the Arab nationalist party Balad and Meretz failed to clear the 3.25% threshold, erasing more than 275,000 votes combined.

While Netanyahu personally intervened to ensure that the far-right parties that backed him ran on a joint slate this election, Labor repeatedly resisted Lapid’s efforts to broker a merger with Meretz, while Balad split from Hadash-Ta’al just before party registration closed.

The final results point to a stunning comeback for Netanyahu, currently on trial in three corruption cases, and will likely end four years of political deadlock that has dragged the country through a series of draining elections.

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

Formally, Netanyahu will only be handed the mandate at the earliest sometime next week, after President Isaac Herzog meets with each party leader to hear their recommendations for who should form the next coalition.

Herzog has until November 16 to announce which lawmaker he will task with forming a government, though he can do so earlier. In previous rounds, party consultations at the President’s Residence typically lasted two days. Herzog can hold an additional round of consultations if deemed necessary, but most expect the process to be a technicality, with Netanyahu set to easily receive the nod from the president.

Unofficially, Netanyahu’s allies have already begun the work of negotiating with Shas, United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism to coordinate all of their requests for ministerial portfolios and other demands.

While the three parties are steadfast supporters, Netanyahu will still need to haggle with them over policy goals and cabinet posts to secure their support, which could include complicated negotiations in areas where the factions have far-reaching demands or do not see eye-to-eye.

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

Still, Netanyahu is said to hope that he will be able to balance the demands of the various factions so that the coalition remains stable.

According to Hebrew media reports, Netanyahu charged Likud MK Yariv Levin, a seasoned negotiator, with the task of managing talks, and he has already begun reaching out to the factions to start negotiations. Speculation is already running rampant over potential future cabinet posts for the four parties expected to make up the next coalition.

Shas and UTJ are expected to seek to roll back the current government’s reforms, including taxes on sweetened beverages and single-use plasticware items as well as reforms to the system for certifying kosher food. Both Shas’s Aryeh Deri and UTJ’s Yitzhak Goldknopf have indicated interest in the Finance Ministry, though Deri could also consider a return to the Interior Ministry.

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

Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich has expressed interest in the ministries of finance, justice and particularly defense, although Netanyahu is seen as more likely to give the latter role to Likud MK Yoav Gallant, a former senior Israel Defense Forces general.

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

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