The leader of the Likud party, Binyamin Netanyahu, has won a surprise victory in Israel’s election.
The incumbent defied the exit polls that were suggesting a dead heat between the centre-left Zionist Union and the right-wing Likud party.
After the build-up to the election showed his party trailing Zionist Union in the opinion polls, Netanyahu is now in a position to form a right-wing coalition government. He is on track to becoming Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
He has called it a “great victory” for Likud, and his party will begin negotiations immediately in the hope of forming a government within two to three weeks.
But Israel’s political future remains uncertain. To snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, Netanyahu lurched to the ultra-nationalist Israeli right, making pledges that could lead to the country’s relationship with the US and Europe deteriorating further.
He also promised thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories, and asserted that he would not allow the Palestinians to have their own state.
In this week’s NS cover story on the Israeli elections, the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen wrote:
No one who is interested in the impact of the Middle East on the rest of the world should focus solely on the turmoil in the Arab countries. The politics of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians are evolving, but the conflict remains as poisonous as ever. The lesson of history is that when it is left to fester, it becomes unstable and then explodes.