TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party scored a resounding victory in the country’s election, final results showed Wednesday, 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 hard-line policies.
The election was widely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu, who has governed the country for the past six years. Recent opinion polls indicated he was in trouble, giving chief rival Isaac Herzog of the opposition Zionist Union a slight lead. Exit polls Tuesday showed the two sides deadlocked but once the actual results came pouring in early Wednesday, Likud soared forward. Zionist Union wound up with just 24 seats.
Given the final results, it is all but assured that Israel’s largely ceremonial President Reuven Rivlin will task Netanyahu with forming a new government. Netanyahu says he hopes to do so quickly, within two to three weeks.