Netanyahu, right wing claim victory in Israeli elections despite setback

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu alliance and other right-wing parties are winning Israel’s parliamentary elections, exit polls suggest. However, the country’s right suffered a setback as support for center-left parties surged.

Shortly after the polls across the country, the prime minister claimed victory based on exit poll results. “I am proud to be your prime minister, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity, for the third time, to lead the state of Israel,” he told a cheering crowd at his campaign headquarters.

According to the exit polls, the right wing will get 61 seats in the Knesset, with the center-left holding 59.

Netanyahu’s party is already aligned in a single bloc with the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu group and is expected to seek an alliance with a new nationalist party, Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home).

The real surprise of the night is the center-left Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party, which is believed to have come second, with some 18 or 19 seats in the Knesset. Strong voter turnout is thought to have boosted support for the center-left, energizing an army of undecided voters. The party, led by former television talk show host Yair Lapid, won among middle-class, secular voters by promising to resolve a range of social issues.

The once dominant Labour party led by Shelly Yachimovich was projected to take third place with 17 seats.

In a four per cent increase from the 2009 election, 66.6 per cent of eligible Israeli voters went to the polls this year (not including soldiers), +972 Magazine reports.

In many of Israel’s Arab towns, voter turnout is expected to have reached as high as 80 per cent, JPost reports.

Though the 4.3 million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza are barred from voting in the country’s elections, other non-Jews that make up about twenty per cent of the country’s population have been allowed to vote since 1966.

For this reason, the Arab League made a concerted effort to get out the vote among Israel’s non-Jewish citizens. Haneen Zoabi, of the Arab Balad party, sent an SMS to her party’s supporters telling them not to vote against having to live “as foreigners or in fear in their homeland.”

But despite left-of-center votes, exit poll projections show hawkish right-winger Netanyahu coming to his third term in office, which means that an Israeli-Palestinian peace will most likely be out of reach for another four years.

Israeli settlement policy, a central issue for nationalist forces in the country, has drawn criticism even from Washington, apparently causing a breach in relations between the previously close allies Israel and the US.

Iran is also certain to remain at the top of agenda, with Netanyahu saying that preventing a nuclear-armed Iran would be the primary challenge facing his country. “The first challenge was and remains preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” he said in his speech at the campaign headquarters.

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