Likud pulls off Israeli poll win

SURPRISE VICTORY: Likud party supporters listen to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, inset, deliver an election victory speech in Tel Aviv yesterday. Picture by: Reuters
SURPRISE VICTORY: Likud party supporters listen to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, inset, deliver an election victory speech in Tel Aviv yesterday. Picture by: Reuters

Netanyahu pledges to form coalition

ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged yesterday to form a new governing coalition quickly after an upset election victory that was built on a shift to the right and is likely to worsen a troubled relationship with the White House.

In the final days of campaigning, Netanyahu abandoned a commitment to negotiate a Palestinian state – the basis of more than two decades of Middle East peacemaking – and promised to go on building settlements on occupied land.

Such policies defy the core vision of a solution to the IsraeliPalestinian conflict embraced by President Barack Obama and his Republican and Democratic predecessors.

With nearly all votes counted yesterday, Netanyahu’s Likud party had won 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset, comfortably defeating the centre-left Zionist Union opposition on 24 seats. A united list of Israeli Arab parties came in third.

The result amounted to a dramatic and unexpected victory for Netanyahu. The last opinion polls published four days before the vote had shown Likud trailing the Zionist Union by four seats.

Although Netanyahu must still put together a coalition to remain in power, his victory all but guarantees that Israel’s president will give him the first opportunity to form a government, putting him on course to become the longest serving leader in the country’s histor y.

“I am moved by the responsibility Israel has given me and I appreciate the decision by Israel’s citizens to elect me and my friends, against all odds and in the face of powerful forces,” Netanyahu said during a traditional thanksgiving visit to Judaism’s holy Western Wall in Jerusalem.

But the promises he made to woo ultra-nationalist voters in the final days of the campaign could have wide consequences, including deepening rifts with the US and Europe, and potentially emboldening Palestinians to take unilateral steps towards statehood in the absence of any prospect of talks.

Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks that collapsed last year, lamented the success of a campaign based on settlements, racism, apartheid and the denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.

Likud said Netanyahu intended to form a new government within weeks, with negotiations already under way with the far-right pro-settler Jewish Home party led by Naftali Bennett, the centrist Kulanu party and ultraOrthodox groups.

The critical party to get on side will be Kulanu, led by former Likud member and communications minister Moshe Kahlon, who won 10 seats, making him a kingmaker given his ability to side with either Netanyahu or the centre-left opposition.

Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union, conceded defeat, saying he had called Netanyahu to congratulate him.

The Tel Aviv stock market was largely unmoved by Netanyahu’s victory, with the benchmark Tel Aviv 100 index up marginally at midday.

– Reuters

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