Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced an uncertain path to staying in office on Tuesday, even as preliminary results showed his Likud party pulling ahead of its opponents in the country’s third election in less than a year.
Exit polls on Israeli TV stations showed Likud and its allies capturing 59 seats out of the 120 in parliament. That would still put Likud and its ultra-religious and nationalist bloc two seats short of the parliamentary majority required to form a government.
With more than 90% of votes already counted, Netanyhau’s bloc looked to be maintaining its lead. Final results are expected to be announced later Tuesday and could swing Netanyahu over the top — two weeks before he goes on trial to face corruption charges.
But if the official results match the exit polls, and Netanyahu’s camp is unable to draw in defectors from the opposing camp, Israel’s prolonged political gridlock could continue with the prospect of a fourth election.
The uncertainty didn’t stop Netanyahu from declaring victory early Tuesday in front of a raucous crowd of supporters.
“This is a victory against all the odds, because we stood against powerful forces,” he said. “They already eulogized us. Our opponents said the Netanyahu era is over.”
He vowed to immediately begin work to form a new coalition and press forward with a hard-line agenda that includes annexing large parts of the West Bank. Netanyahu aide Jonathan Urich said efforts were already underway to recruit defecting lawmakers from the other bloc.
“I expect that fairly shortly we’ll have the missing votes,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.
The Likud party issued a statement saying Netanyahu met with religious and nationalist party leaders and they agreed to remain a united bloc, but didn’t rule out a possible unity government deal with Blue and White.
Regardless of the final outcome, the election seemed to mark a devastating setback for Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party and its allies on the center-left, who had grand ambitions to topple Netanyahu after more than a decade in power. But with Blue and White party trailing Likud by several seats that option appears off the table. Infighting has already begun among the fragmented opposition, with various figures pointing the blame at Gantz for running a lackluster campaign.
Even with his path to the premiership seemingly blocked, Gantz vowed to carry on.
“We won’t let anyone destroy the country. We won’t let anyone separate between us. We won’t let anyone dismantle Israeli society and crush democracy,” he told supporters. “Even if it is difficult, we will win at its end.”
Channel 13’s results are:
Blue and White 34 – two more than the original results
Joint List 14
Yahadut Hatorah 7 – one less
Labor-Gesher-Meretz 7 – one more
Yisrael Beytenu 6 – two less
Channel 12 results are:
Blue and White 32 – one less
Joint List 15 – one more
Yisrael Beytenu 7 – one more
Yahadut Hatorah 7
Yamina 6 – one less
CHANNEL 11 (KAN News)
Blue and White: 33
Joint Arab List: 15
Yahadut hatorah: 8
Yamina: 6 – one less from the earlier poll
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