Israeli PM Lapid concedes defeat to Netanyahu in election


TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday conceded defeat to Benjamin Netanyahu in this week's election, setting the stage for the former Israeli leader to return to power.

Lapid congratulated Netanyahu and instructed his staff to prepare an organized transition of power, his office said.

“The state of Israel comes before any political consideration," Lapid said. "I wish Netanyahu success, for the sake of the people of Israel and the state of Israel.”

Lapid, who has served as interim prime minister for the past four months, made the announcement after a near-final vote count showed Netanyahu securing a parliamentary majority with his allies. Final results were expected later Thursday.

Israel held its fifth election in four years on Tuesday, a protracted political crisis that saw voters divided over Netanyahu's fitness to serve while on trial for corruption.

The final ballots were still being counted late Thursday. Netanyahu and his allies were expected to control 64 or 65 seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament. His opponents in the current coalition, led by Lapid, were expected to win 50 or 51 seats, with the remainder held by a small unaffiliated Arab party.

After the results are formally announced, Israel's ceremonial president taps one candidate, who will be Netanyahu, to form a government. He will then have four weeks to do so.

Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader, was ousted in 2021 after 12 consecutive years in power by an ideologically-diverse coalition that included for the first time in Israel's history a small Arab party. The coalition collapsed in the spring over infighting.