Jerusalem — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to form a right-wing governing coalition on Thursday (local time) after securing victory in a high-stakes Israeli election despite a strong challenge from a centrist alliance.
The results from Tuesday's vote came despite corruption allegations against the 69-year-old premier and kept him on course to become Israel's longest-serving prime minister later this year.
The allegations are likely to play an important role in coalition negotiations as many analysts expect Netanyahu to demand pledges from potential partners to agree to remain in his government if he is indicted.
Netanyahu will rely in part on politicians of the nationalist right opposed to a Palestinian state to put together his government.
His current government is already seen as the most right-wing in Israel's history, and his next is expected to be similar if not even further to the right.
Netanyahu himself, in a campaign pledge just three days before polling day, vowed to begin annexing settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Applying sovereignty in the West Bank on a large scale could effectively end remaining hopes for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu's pledge was widely seen as an appeal to the far right, and it appears to have worked.
He boosted the number of parliamentary seats for his Likud, while smaller, far-right parties struggled.
The Likud said late on Wednesday that Netanyahu "will form a right-wing government and he is already in advanced negotiations with the national camp partners."
Throughout the campaign, Netanyahu highlighted his bond with US President Donald Trump, who has swung US policy sharply in Israel's favour and openly backed the prime minister.
On Wednesday, Trump said the incumbent's election to a fifth term gives the White House's long-awaited peace plan, expected to be released in the coming weeks, a "better chance".
It was not clear what he meant.
He also tweeted a picture of a Netanyahu supporter waving a Trump flag and telephoned the premier to offer congratulations.
The election was seen as a referendum on the veteran prime minister, who has built a reputation as guarantor of Israel's security and economic growth, but whose divisive right-wing populism and alleged corruption led to calls for change.
The results reflected his deft political skills, Israel's shift to the right and wide satisfaction with Netanyahu's achievements, but also the fact that many voters are fed up with him.
The centrist Blue and White alliance put together by ex-military chief Benny Gantz will finish with a similar number of seats to the Likud even though it came together less than two months before the polls.
Gantz's alliance, which conceded defeat on Wednesday night, however could not peel away enough right-wing votes to unseat Netanyahu.
The results showed that the Likud together with other right-wing parties allied to the prime minister would hold around 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament.
They leave President Reuven Rivlin, who must ask one of the candidates to form a government, with little choice but to pick Netanyahu following consultations with party heads next week.
Intensive coalition negotiations could drag on for days or even weeks. — AFP