Netanyahu may be on course for a dramatic comeback, Israeli exit polls suggest

TEL AVIV — Just over a year after being ousted, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be on the verge of a political comeback in Tuesday’s election with the help of a far-right party led by one of the country’s most extreme politicians.

Israeli exit polls indicated that the bloc led by Netanyahu was winning a slim majority in the 120-member parliament, while the outgoing coalition, led by Prime Minister Yair Lapid, was projected to win 54 seats.

Elections officials worked through the night tallying votes. Early on Wednesday, nearly 45% of the ballots had been counted, and the final outcome remained unclear.

If the projections hold up, it would be a remarkable turnabout for Netanyahu, who had been Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and whose 15-year run was brought to an end last year by an unusual coalition of opposition parties.

‘Nothing is guaranteed’

The coalition that unseated Netanyahu collapsed in June amid ideological differences, plunging Israel into its fifth election in less than four years — and opening the door to a potential return by Netanyahu, 73, who is also standing trial on corruption charges.

“I’ll replace this government, I hope — although nothing is guaranteed,” he said in an interview Oct. 18.

Netanyahu’s hopes of forming a 61-seat majority government rest in part on the support of the far-right Jewish Power party (Otzma Yehudit). 

Once shunned by Israel’s political mainstream, Jewish Power and other far-right parties are enjoying unprecedented popularity heading into this election. 

Most polls showed them winning up to 10% of the seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. If that projection holds, it would make them the third-largest faction in parliament and give them significant leverage in potential coalition negotiations with Netanyahu. 

It would likely also mean a Cabinet post for Itamar Ben Gvir, the firebrand leader of Jewish Power. Among other things, he supports deporting Arab citizens who are deemed to be “disloyal” to Israel.

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