TEL AVIV, Israel — Benjamin Netanyahu’s dramatic re-election will likely delay any attempts to restart the stalled Middle East peace process, analysts warned Wednesday.
Israel's prime minister won a close-fought parliamentary election despite predictions — including exit polls — that he would tie with center-left rivals.
“Against all odds: a great victory for the Likud,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter late Tuesday even before all the votes were counted. “A major victory for the people of Israel!”
His main opponent, Zionist Union co-leader Isaac Herzog, called Netanyahu to congratulate him and concede Wednesday, as eyes turned to coalition talks.
With 99.5 percent of votes counted, Likud had won the equivalent of 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset compared to the Zionist Union's 24 seats, the Central Election Committee said.
Neither had enough support for an outright majority but Netanyahu, as leader of the largest party, will have the first opportunity to form a coalition government with the help of smaller parties.
Netanyahu has governed the country for the past six years but been tested over his country's economy and Israel's increasingly fractured relationship with Washington.
His 11th-hour election pledge to abandon his previous commitment to negotiate towards a Palestinian state — may have helped attract right-wing voters but is likely to antagonize Palestinians and the United States, according to analysts.
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“This ... is not going to be a government that is going to move the peace process forward,” said Reuven Hazan, professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Any progress on peace would depend on whether Netanyahu can repair strained ties with President Barack Obama, he said.
“Netanyahu has just been re-elected by a significant margin and is more than likely to form a government that will keep him stable and in power for three to four more years, so if they can’t mend the fences … it’s a lame duck administration in the U.S. [and] Netanyahu will just try to buy time until it passes,” Hazan added.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s executive committee and frequent Palestinian spokesperson, warned that Netanyahu’s policies could provoke violence and extremism throughout the region.
“The results of the Israeli elections are the natural outcome of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies throughout his previous tenures of generating fear, hostility and distrust, as well as shifting the whole terrain of political discourse to the racist extreme,” she said in a statement.
Secretary of State John Kerry, in Switzerland for Iran nuclear talks, declined to comment on the election result but the White House previously said it would work with whoever won.
However, the prospect of a compromise over a Palestinian state seemed bleak after Netanyahu posted on Twitter: “Retweet in support of an undivided Jerusalem!”
Eytan Gilboa, a professor of Israel-U.S. relations at the Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, said "it remains to be seen" whether Obama will be able to overcome the "high level of personal animosity" between him and Netanyahu to create a working relationship until he ends his presidency.
"Whether or not the White House and Netanyahu will continue to conduct warfare between themselves depends on their ability to overcome the accumulation of bad feelings mistrust and poisonous relations," he said.
Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, favors a unity coalition but Netanyahu has already rejected a deal between Likud and Herzog’s Zionist Union.
“I called up Bibi and congratulated him and I respect the results,” Herzog said in a statement outside his house. “We will cooperate with any political party that wants to cooperate with us. And we will work in the Knesset and in the public for our interests.”
The European Union said it was "committed to working with the incoming Israeli government on a mutually beneficial relationship as well as on the re-launch of the peace process" according to a statement from E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
An Iranian official, meanwhile, said the outcome of Israel's election made no difference.
“For us there is no difference between the Zionist regime's political parties. They are all aggressors in nature,'' foreign ministry spokesperson Marizeh Afkham told reporters, according to Mehr News Agency.
Hanan Ashrawi, an executive committee member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, said the election results “do not bode well for peace and the region.”
“By destroying the chances of peace, negating Palestinian statehood, willfully persisting and violating international law, and challenging the will of the international community through an escalation of settlement activities and land theft … Netanyahu is liable to plunge the whole region into more extremism and violence,” she said in a statement.