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In Israel, Netanyahu's rocky road to return to power

Veteran Israeli leader and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at campaign headquarters in Jerusalem early on November 2 after the end of voting for national elections
— Jerusalem (AFP)

After the fifth vote in under four years, veteran Israeli hawk Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies have secured a clear victory, according to results released late Thursday with 99 percent of votes counted.

The return of 73-year-old Netanyahu comes as talks to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict have long since stalled, and as violence soars in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

AFP takes a look at four years of political turmoil that started at a time when Netanyahu, after a decade as prime minister, was dogged by corruption allegations which he denies.

- April 2019: Dead heat -

In November 2018, Netanyahu's government is left hanging by a thread after his defence minister Avigdor Lieberman quits.

Lieberman, who heads a small nationalist party that acts as linchpin in the ruling coalition, resigns in protest over a truce agreed to avert a full-blown conflict with the Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

A month later the Knesset, or parliament, is dissolved and early elections are called.

Netanyahu, dogged by the graft allegations, seeks another term in the April 2019 vote.

His right-wing Likud and the Blue and White alliance of centrist challenger Benny Gantz both bag 35 seats.

Netanyahu, who has the backing of smaller right-wing parties, is asked to form a government but fails to muster a majority. In late May, parliament is again dissolved.

- November 2019: Netanyahu charged -

The second election in September 2019 is another tight race, with Gantz's alliance taking 33 seats against Likud's 32.

Netanyahu proposes a unity government, but Gantz refuses.

The two men take turns to try cobbling together a coalition but fail.

In November, Netanyahu is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust -- the first sitting Israeli prime minister to face criminal prosecution.

Netanyahu denies all the charges, saying they are an attempt to remove him from power.

- March 2020: Covid-19 polls -

Lawmakers call a new election for March 2020.

Third time round, Likud comes out top with 36 seats to 33 for Gantz's alliance.

But it is Gantz, who has initial pledges of support from 61 lawmakers, who gets the first shot at forming a government. He fails.

With Israel in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, Netanyahu and Gantz agree to form a unity government.

Under the deal, Netanyahu will stay in office for 18 months before Gantz will then take over for the same period.

Lawmakers endorse the deal in May, but the government falls in December after failing to get a budget through the Knesset.

Parliament is dissolved again in December and new elections are called.

- March 2021: Netanyahu out -

Likud tops the poll again in a fourth vote in March 2021, followed this time by the centrist Yesh Atid party led by former television host Yair Lapid.

Netanyahu again fails to form a government, whereupon the task falls to Lapid.

Lapid stitches together a motley eight-party coalition, including an independent Arab party for the first time, united principally by their desire to topple Netanyahu.

Under the accord, nationalist hardliner Naftali Bennett will serve as premier for two years and then hand over to Lapid, who will be foreign minister in the interim.

After a record total of 15 years in power, Netanyahu is ousted.

- April 2022: coalition collapses -

The honeymoon of the "change" government is short-lived.

In April 2022, the ideologically divided coalition loses its majority when the government whip, Bennett party member Idit Silman, joins the Netanyahu camp.

In June, Bennett and Lapid concede that attempts to stabilise the coalition have failed. They dissolve parliament and call the fifth elections in less than four years.

Lapid heads a caretaker government.

- November 2022: fifth poll -

After a tense campaign and high voter turnout in the November 1 polls, Netanyahu takes the lead.

According to the electoral commission in results issued late Thursday, the right-wing bloc won a total of 64 seats -- made up of 32 seats for Netanyahu's Likud party, 18 for ultra-Orthodox parties and 14 for a far-right alliance called Religious Zionism

Caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid's centrist bloc won 51 seats.

Lapid called his rival Netanyahu to congratulate him, telling his "entire office to prepare an organised transition of power".

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