Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and its far-right and religious allies have secured an emphatic victory in Israel's general elections, bringing the country's longest-serving premier back at the helm and ending the prolonged political impasse plaguing the Jewish nation.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid called Mr. Netanyahu on Thursday evening to congratulate him on winning the elections, just under 48 hours after polls closed. Mr. Lapid said that he has instructed all departments of the Prime Minister's Office to prepare for an orderly transfer of power.
"The State of Israel is above any political consideration," Mr. Lapid said in a tweet.
Israel's Central Election Committee on Thursday announced the final allocation of seats for the 25th Knesset, giving 73-year-old Netanyahu and his likely political allies 64 seats in the 120-member parliament, enough for a governing majority.
President Isaac Herzog will now begin consultations with politicians on forming a new government after results are officially certified on November 9.
The outcome of the election, the fifth in less than four years, also ends an unprecedented period of political deadlock that began in 2019, when Mr. Netanyahu was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which he denies.
Mr. Netanyahu's ruling Likud party won 32 seats in the Knesset while outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid got 24 seats.
The biggest surprise of the polls after the final count was over is the far-right Religious Zionism party which won 14 seats becoming the third largest party.
Mr. Netanyahu's other likely coalition partners, Shas and United Torah Judaism won 11 and seven seats, respectively bringing the bloc's total count to 64.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz's National Unity won 12 seats, and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman got six seats, one more following the counting of the double-envelope votes. The so-called double-envelope ballots are cast by members of the security forces, prisoners, people with disabilities, diplomats serving abroad.
Arab-majority parties Hadash-Ta'al and United Arab List each got five seats but the breakaway Balad party failed to cross the threshold of 3.25 per cent required for a Knesset entry.
Labour, once a ruling party in Israel, got just over the 3.25% electoral threshold winning four seats.
Left-wing party, Meretz, was just a few thousand votes short of making it into the next Knesset, ending a three-decade-long era of political representation for it since its formulation in 1992.
After exit polls projected that he would secure a majority, Mr. Netanyahu told Likud party supporters that he would set up a government that would "look after all the citizens of Israel, without exception, because the state is all of ours".
"We'll restore security, we'll cut the cost of living, we'll widen the circle of peace even further, we'll restore Israel as a rising power among the nations." For the first time in Israel’s history, the government is likely to be made up primarily of religious parties, with 33 seats in the projected 64-strong coalition going to the Religious Zionism Party, Shas and United Torah Judaism, two more than the Likud.
"This is expected to have major implications on religion-and-state issues in Israel, as each of these parties has already laid out plans both to reverse reforms put in place by the outgoing government and to institute new ones to reinforce Orthodox control over religious life in Israel," The Times of Israel newspaper commented.
Mr. Netanyahu's victory could see an upward trajectory in Indo-Israel ties.
An advocate of strong bilateral ties with India, Mr. Netanyahu was the second Israeli Prime Minister to visit India in January 2018. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his historic visit to Israel, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, in July 2017 when the ‘chemistry’ between the two leaders became the subject of intense discussion.
India and Israel elevated their bilateral relations to a strategic partnership during Mr. Modi's visit to Israel. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has focused on expanding knowledge-based partnership, which includes collaboration in innovation and research, including boosting the 'Make in India' initiative.
On Friday, Mr. Netanyahu tweeted that he spoke with the leaders of Hungary, Greece, Poland, Romania and Austria who congratulated him on the victory in the elections.
"Together we will bring our relations to new heights!" Mr. Netanyahu wrote.
For many years, Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, appeared to be politically invincible.
But he met with a rude jolt after being ousted by an unprecedented coalition of parties whose only common goal was to see his ouster.
Born in Tel Aviv in 1949, Mr. Netanyahu holds the record of being the longest-serving Prime Minister in the country's history.
Having served in the position earlier between 1996 and 1999, Netanyahu in 2020 surpassed the record held by one of the Jewish state's founding leaders, David Ben-Gurion.