Netanyahu’s top partner in the government is expected to be the far-right Religious Zionism party, whose lead candidate, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is a disciple of a racist anti-Arab rabbi.
Ben-Gvir says he wants to end Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank and until recently hung a photo in his home of Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli who killed 29 Palestinians in a shooting in the West Bank in 1994. Ben-Gvir, who wants to deport Arab lawmakers, says he wants to be in charge of the national police.
Religious Zionism has promised to make changes to Israeli law that could eliminate Netanyahu’s legal problems and, along with other nationalist allies, want to weaken the independence of the judiciary and concentrate more power in the hands of lawmakers.
The party’s leader, Bezalel Smotrich, a West Bank settler who has made anti-Arab remarks, has set his sights on the Defense Ministry. That would make him the overseer of Israel’s military and military occupation of the West Bank.
As the votes were counted, Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted, with at least four Palestinians killed in separate incidents and an Israeli police officer slightly injured in a stabbing.
Ben-Gvir used the incidents to promise a tougher approach to Palestinian attackers once he takes office.
“It’s time to restore safety on the streets,” he tweeted. “The time has come when a terrorist who goes out to carry out an attack is taken out!”
The rising power of Israel’s right wing came at the expense of the left. The Labor party, once a fixture in Israeli politics and a supporter of the Palestinian state, faltered just above the electoral threshold.
As the vote count drew to a close, the anti-occupation Meretz seemed headed for political exile for the first time since its founding in the 1990s.
Meretz’s leader, Zehava Galon, admitted that the party would not sit in the next parliament. “This is a disaster for Meretz, a disaster for the country and yes, a disaster for me,” she said.
After the results are formally announced, Israel’s ceremonial president taps one candidate, who will be Netanyahu, to form a government.
He has four weeks to do that. Netanyahu is likely to complete talks within that time, but religious Zionism is expected to engage in tough negotiations for its support.
The polarizing Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, was ousted from power in 2021 after 12 consecutive years by an ideologically diverse coalition that included a small Arab party for the first time in Israel’s history. The coalition collapsed in a power struggle in the spring.
Netanyahu is accused of fraud, breach of trust and taking bribes in a series of scandals involving wealthy associates and media moguls. He denies wrongdoing and sees the trial as a witch hunt against him, orchestrated by hostile media and a biased legal system.