In spite of polls indicating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party would lose Tuesday’s election, they swept a resounding victory, winning 30 of 120 Parliament seats.
“Against all odds, we achieved a great victory for the Likud,” Netanyahu said on election night. “I am proud of the people of Israel, who in the moment of truth knew how to distinguish between what is important and what is peripheral, and to insist on what is important.”
Even Netanyahu’s chief rival, Isaac Herzog, called the victory “an incredible achievement.”
“I am convinced that only a unity government can prevent the rapid disintegration of Israel’s democracy and new elections in the near future,” Herzog said.
Netanyahu considers security important, while his opponents focused primarily on “the high cost of living,” and accused Netanyahu of being out of touch with ordinary citizens’ concerns.
“The most important thing for all of us… is real security, social economy and strong leadership,” Netanyahu said after the election.
Security was evidently very much important to Israeli voters, however. “I see that the Israeli public understood that despite all the issues and all the problems, when we see the threat of Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, the Likud is the best leading party to head the nation for the next four years,” Likud MK Danny Danon said.
Jerusalem resident Eli Paniri, 54, said he “voted for the only person who should be prime minister: Netanyahu.”
“I am not ashamed of this,” Paniri said. “He is a strong man and, most important, he stood up to President Obama.”
Notably, the Obama administration did not congratulate the reelected prime minister, instead issuing a generic “congratulations” statement to the Israeli public on having democratic elections.
“We want to congratulate the Israeli people for the democratic process of the election they engaged in with all of the parties that engage in that election,” White House Director of Political Strategy David Simas said. “As you know the hard work of coalition building now begins. Sometimes that takes a couple of weeks and we’re going to give space to the formation of that coalition government and we’re not going to weigh in one way or the other except to say that the United States and Israel have a historic and close relationship and that will continue going forward.”
In his victory speech, the prime minister discussed the importance of peace and security, emphasizing his willingness to work with other Middle Eastern leaders to achieve these goals. “I appeal tonight to the leaders of the Arab countries and say: Let us meet. Let us talk about peace. Let us make peace. I am willing to meet at any time, at any place, in Damascus, in Riyadh, in Beirut, and in Jerusalem as well.”
He spoke of his vision for a peaceful future. “Let us join hands and work together in peace, together with our neighbors,” he said. “There is no limit to the flourishing growth that we can achieve for both peoples – in the economy, in agriculture, in commerce, tourism, education – but, above all, in the ability to give our younger generation hope to live in a place that’s good to live in, a life of creative work, a peaceful life with much of interest, with opportunity and hope.”
“Let’s go in the path of Prophet Isaiah, who spoke thousands of years ago, they shall beat their swords into plowshares and know war no more,” Netanyahu concluded. “Let us know war no more. Let us know peace.”
The next step is for the Prime Minister to form a coalition in Parliament, which means he will need to find enough allies to build a 61-vote majority.
“The citizens of Israel expect us to quickly put together a leadership that will work for them regarding security, economy and society as we committed to do – and we will do so,” Netanyahu said.