Israeli PM concedes defeat to Netanyahu

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won this week's Israeli election, final results show, clearing the way for him to return to power.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid congratulated Netanyahu and instructed his staff to prepare an organised 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 just before the final results were released showing Netanyahu securing a parliamentary majority with his religious and ultranationalist allies.

Israel held its fifth election in four years on Tuesday.

According to the final results, which still need to be certified in the coming days, Netanyahu and his ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox allies captured 64 seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament, or Knesset.

His opponents in the current coalition, led by Lapid, won 51 seats, with the remainder held by a small unaffiliated Arab party.

Netanyahu's victory and his comfortable majority puts an end to Israel's political instability, for now.

But it leaves Israelis split over their leadership and over the values that define their state: Jewish or democratic.

Netanyahu's top partner in the government is expected to be the Religious Zionism party, whose main candidate, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is a disciple of an anti-Arab rabbi.

Ben-Gvir says he wants to end Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank and until recently hung a photo in his home of Baruch Goldstein, a US-Israeli who killed 29 Palestinians in a West Bank shooting attack in 1994.

Ben-Gvir, who seeks to deport Arab legislators, says he wants to be put in charge of the country's police force.

Religious Zionism has promised to enact changes to Israeli law that could make Netanyahu's legal woes disappear and, along with other nationalist allies, they want to weaken the independence of the judiciary and concentrate more power in the hands of MPs.

The party's leader, Bezalel Smotrich, a West Bank settler, has his sights set on the Defence Ministry.

That would make him the overseer of the military and Israel's West Bank military occupation.