According to preliminary exit polls, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party scored enough seats in Israel's Tuesday elections that another term as premier is likely for him. Defying some expectations that Netanyahu had lost ground to the center-left Zionist Union Party, Likud came out either tied or ahead in three television exit polls on Tuesday evening in Israel.
Results With Caveats
While Netanyahu has already declared victory and is placing calls to leaders of other parties to begin building a governing coalition, the official results won't be released until Thursday at the earliest. Not many expect that the tally will shift much, but following such a close race, and with two parties (Likud and Zionist Union) angling to assemble a coalition, each seat matters.
Voter turnout, in case you were wondering, was nearly 72 percent.
Bibi's Last-Minute Appeal
On Monday evening, Netanyahu made the (by many accounts distressing) announcement that he no longer supported the establishment of a two-state solution.
By reversing himself on a crucial position, it appears that he may have helped his party nab a few more seats from right-leaning parties, especially Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home party, which received only eight seats, despite projections that it would net as many as a dozen.
Moshe Kahlon: Possible Kingmaker
The centrist party Kulanu, which is led by former communications minister Moshe Kahlon, will figure heavily into the coalition math in the negotiations ahead. With 10 seats in play, Kahlon's haul will be heavily coveted by both Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog, who leads the Zionist Union. As we noted on Monday, Kahlon hasn't committed himself to either a right-leaning or left-leaning coalition.
According to Haaretz, Kahlon has said he won't be making any decisions until the final vote tallies are released.
National Unity Government?
Echoing earlier calls, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin urged the formation of a national unity government that would include both Likud and the Zionist Union. "I am convinced that only a unity government can prevent the rapid disintegration of Israel's democracy and new elections in the near future," he said on Tuesday evening.
While it wouldn't be his first choice, some Likud members told reporters that Netanyahu would be open to forming a national unity government with the Zionist Union, out of necessity if nothing else. In the meantime, Netanyahu has already called right-leaning parties about a possible coalition.
Joint Arab List Places Third
One remarkable aspect of these elections was the strong showing of the Joint Arab List, a collection of Arab political parties which had never before run together in elections.
As Edward Delman noted, the "parties originally united for the sake of survival; a new law, which some see as designed to squeeze out smaller parties and disenfranchise Arab Israelis, raised the threshold of votes needed to get any seats in parliament."
As many predicted, if that was the law's intention, it appears to have backfired. "We are in a historic moment,” Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List, told supporters on Tuesday evening. “We have the highest Arab voting rates since 1999.”