Lapid concedes defeat, promises orderly transfer of power

Labor won only four seats in the new government with its sister party Meretz falling below the threshold.

 Israeli Prime Minister and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid addresses his supporters from the stage at his party headquarters during Israel's general election in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 2, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Israeli Prime Minister and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid addresses his supporters from the stage at his party headquarters during Israel's general election in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 2, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid conceded defeat to Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, after the Central Elections Committee finished counting the votes cast in Tuesday’s election.

Lapid called Netanyahu just before 7 p.m. and congratulated the opposition leader on his victory, the Prime Minister’s Office said. Lapid informed Netanyahu that he had instructed all branches of his administration to prepare an orderly transfer of power.

“The State of Israel is above all political considerations. I wish Netanyahu success, for the people of Israel and the State of Israel,” the statement quoted Lapid as saying.

The final results are Likud 32, Yesh Atid 24, Religious Zionist Party 14, National Unity 12, Shas 11, United Torah Judaism seven, Yisrael Beytenu six, Ra’am five, Hadash-Ta’al five, and Labor four.

Meretz (3.16%), Balad (2.9%) and Bayit Yehudi (1.19%) did not pass the 3.25% electoral threshold.

 Head of the Labour party and Minister of Transportation Merav Michaeli gives a statment to the media following the results of the Knesset elections in Tel Aviv, on November 3, 2022.  (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) Head of the Labour party and Minister of Transportation Merav Michaeli gives a statment to the media following the results of the Knesset elections in Tel Aviv, on November 3, 2022. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

The Central Elections Committee stressed it was still running additional statistical tests to verify the results and that the results are not yet official. The committee has until November 9 to send the official results to President Isaac Herzog, who will then begin the process of handing over the mandate to Netanyahu to form a government.

How are the anti-Netanyahu politicians reacting?

A number of party leaders from the anti-Netanyahu bloc addressed the loss on Thursday.

Meretz leader Zehava Galon called the result a “disaster for Meretz” and a “disaster for the country.”

Galon took responsibility for the failure to pass the electoral threshold and vowed to fight on.

Transportation Minister and Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli said on Thursday evening that Lapid was responsible for Meretz’s failure to cross the electoral threshold and for losing the election.

Despite requests from both Lapid and Galon to merge in September, Michaeli was the one who refused to consider a merger between the two parties.

“[Lapid] ran an irresponsible campaign that called for strengthening the biggest party. This is what brought down and eliminated Meretz. This is what almost destroyed the Labor Party as well. Lapid was interviewed two days before the elections and said that the Labor Party has no right to exist, essentially attempting to erase it,” Michaeli said.

What made this “cynical campaign” worse was the fact that “everyone” knew that the size of the bloc, and not of the largest party, is what decides elections.

Even if Meretz and Labor had merged, Netanyahu would still have a government, she noted.

"Each of us had a role in this battle, my role was to protect the Labor Party and I did it, unfortunately with a lower result than last time."

Merav Michaeli

Labor will consider holding an early primary election, Michaeli added

Criticism of Michaeli

Her refusal to take responsibility drew criticism, including from her own party.

“Leaders make mistakes. A leader should know how to take responsibility and not blame others,” Labor No. 7 Yaya Fink wrote on Twitter.

Former Labor MK and minister Itzik Shmuli called Michaeli’s speech “a lot of meaningless words intended to cover one simple truth,” and accused her of being disconnected from her voters and lacking self-awareness.

“It was Merav’s delusions about becoming prime minister that crushed the bloc and drowned Meretz under the electoral threshold,” Shmuli said.

Economy Minister Orna Barbivay (Yesh Atid) wrote on Twitter, “Michaeli, instead of being part of the fight against a dangerous coalition, you are attacking [the person] who reached out to help you, and you refused. Take responsibility for your failure.”

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar commented on upcoming government policy regarding the judicial system.

“A strong, independent judicial system is an asset to Israel and its citizens,” he said in a speech at Bar-Ilan University.

“It needs repairs, but not politicization. Politicization is a great danger to our judicial system,” Sa’ar said, referring to a plan by RZP leader MK Bezalel Smotrich to reform the judicial appointment process so that only politicians would appoint judges.

Sa’ar wished the next government luck, saying, “I hope that in all the important issues, responsibility toward this sensitive and important system will lead the way, as it has been built since the establishment of the state.”

Coalition negotiations between the Likud, Shas, UTJ and RZP have reportedly already begun. RZP’s two factions, the first, led by Smotrich, and the second, Otzma Yehudit led by MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, will reportedly negotiate separately but will remain coordinated.

Ben-Gvir announced last week that he would demand the Public Security Ministry. Retired Maj.-Gen. MK Yoav Gallant and former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Avi Dichter are the obvious candidates for the Defense Ministry.

UTJ will likely demand the Construction and Housing Ministry, and the Religious Affairs Ministry will likely go to UTJ or Shas.

Shas leader Arye Deri served as interior minister in the past and might fill the position again. UTJ No.2 MK Moshe Gafni said he would request to lead the Knesset Finance Committee, which he previously led for a number of years under Netanyahu.

Netanyahu began to field congratulatory calls and tweets from Israel’s foreign allies on Thursday, after the release of results of the election showing he would likely be able to form a coalition and return to the Prime Minister’s Office.

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides called Netanyahu, tweeting soon after, “I congratulated him on his victory and told him I look forward to working together to maintain the unbreakable bond” between Israel and the US.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “Mazel Tov my friend Netanyahu for your electoral success. I look forward to continuing our joint efforts to deepen the India-Israel strategic partnership.”

Netanyahu and Modi have traveled to each other’s capitals, and ties between Delhi and Jerusalem grew closer during the former’s tenure as prime minister.

Modi also thanked departing Prime Minister Yair Lapid for his work to strengthen the India-Israel relationship.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban posed for a photograph with Netanyahu’s recently published autobiography, which he tweeted with the message, “Mazel Tov!” emblazoned across it.

“What a great victory for Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel! Hard times require strong leaders. Welcome back!” Orban wrote.

Netanyahu and Orban had close ties as leaders, with Hungary often vetoing EU foreign policy proposals – which require unanimity – that were viewed as problematic in Jerusalem. Netanyahu faced criticism for those relations because of accusations of democratic backsliding in Budapest.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) congratulated Netanyahu on Wednesday even when the results seemed clear but were not yet final. At that time, Biden administration officials had said they were waiting to see what kind of government would be formed, but that US-Israel relations would stay strong.

“Congratulations to the people of Israel on a robust high turnout election and clear choice of Netanyahu to form a government,” Cruz tweeted. He added in Hebrew, “Good luck, friend.”