In a moment of ritual drama, TV networks released their forecasts to their polls within a minute of the polls close at 10 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET). The three expected a slim majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament for Netanyahu’s right-wing and religious favorite.
But within four hours, as the results began to appear, the three channels revised their expectations away from the Israeli leader, with two of them expecting 60 seats for Netanyahu’s bloc, while a third bloc won only 59 seats.
Likud was expected to win 30 seats through two channels, putting it 12 seats ahead of its closest competitor, Yesh Atid Al Wasat, led by former TV news anchor Yair Lapid.
Addressing Likud supporters in Jerusalem at 2:30 a.m., Netanyahu was defiant, saying he would do everything in his power to build a stable right-wing government and prevent the country from being drawn into a fifth election.
He said, “I do not exclude anyone in the Knesset who believes in these principles,” directing a clear call to Gideon Sarr – who left Likud at the end of last year to launch his New Hope party, which opposes Netanyahu – to return in the fold.
New Hope appears to have performed poorly in Tuesday’s election, but its expected six seats will be more than enough to secure a majority for Netanyahu in Parliament, along with support for two religious parties, as well as a right-wing party led by former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett. And the far-right religious Zionist Party – which includes followers of the extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose political party was banned from entering the Knesset in the 1980s for being racist.
Although final outcome projections were drifting away from Netanyahu, his divided opponents appear to face the more difficult task of building a pragmatic alliance. In theory, a coalition of seven parties spanning from right to left, including Arab parties, could find themselves with more than 60 seats, but given the history of Israeli politics, where no Arab party has ever held a position in government, it is difficult to imagine the formation of such This alliance easily.
However, main opposition leader Yair Lapid, who apparently thanked voters for preventing the Party of Religious Zionism from becoming part of the government, pledged to work with other party leaders in the coming weeks.
“We will wait for the final results, but as it is, there will be no government based on the voices of racists and homosexuals. I have started talking to the party leaders … But we will do our best to establish a sane government. A government in Israel.”
The elections were held in December, when parliament failed to agree on an ending seven-month budget to arrange a power-sharing arrangement between Netanyahu and his main rival in the previous three elections, Benny Gantz. The former army chief emerged from the unity agreement, which was signed during the first wave of a surge in coronavirus infections last April, bitterly disappointed about his decision to join the government, admitting “I was wrong.”
Contrary to expectations several weeks ago, however, Gantz appears to have performed surprisingly well in Tuesday’s election, with two television networks expecting him to win eight seats. An optimistic figure cut short addressing his supporters in the early hours of Wednesday declaring, “If we are forced to face a fifth round of elections, I will vigilantly protect our democracy, the rule of law and security. Because Israel comes first.”
The center-left Labor Party, led by its new leader Merav Michaeli, and the left-wing Meretz party, also seem to have performed with the highest expectations, on their way to winning about 14 seats between them.
The Joint List, a coalition of three Arab parties committed to ousting Netanyahu, is expected to win a range of eight or nine seats. The United Arab List, which split from the Joint List in January, is not expected to exceed the 3.25% electoral threshold.
Final results may take a week to be certified. After that, the leaders of all the parties that won representation in the Knesset will visit President Reuven Rivlin and inform him of those who support the prime minister. No later than April 7, the president will ask someone to try to form a government. If current projections are proven, there will be little optimism that coalition negotiations will lead to an outcome, as many seem to have given up on another general election campaign sometime during the summer.