‘LOVE YOU’: Victory for Netanyahu, right-wing, Israel’s exit polls say

Israel’s three main TV stations predict Netanyahu gaining a 61-seat coalition. “A long and dramatic night is expected.”

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Exit polls in Israel predicted Tuesday night that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pulled off a victory by the slimmest of margins and will be able to form a 61-seat coalition government in the Knesset, Israel’s 120-seat parliament.

Netanyahu tweeted around 11:30 p.m. Israel time, “Citizens of Israel – Thank you! You gave a huge victory for the Right and the Likud under my leadership. The Likud is big by a giant margin against the next largest party.”

“It is clear that a solid majority of Israeli citizens are right-wing, and they want a strong and stable right-wing government that will preserve Israel’s economy, Israel’s security and the Land of Israel. That’s what we’ll do. Love you,” the prime minister tweeted.

The results, if accurate, mean a solidly right-wing government after a record four national elections within two years, two of which failed to lead to any government and the third giving birth to a bloated unity government in May 2020, which was dysfunctional from the start.

Immediately after polls closed at 10:00 p.m. Israel time, the three main television stations announced their results, culled from thousands of voters who were approached after casting their ballots.

All three polls predict Netanyahu will be able to cobble together a right-wing coalition, although the precise numbers of Knesset seats each party is expected to win varied slightly between polls.

Channel 11 news showed Netanyahu’s Likud Party winning 31 seats, a drop of five seats from the March 2020 election, but the most of any of the parties that ran in the national election.

The second-largest party is the center-Left Yesh Atid with 18, which gained four seats, followed by the religious Shas Party with 9 (no change) and the Arab Joint List with 8 – a dramatic drop of nearly half from its stunning achievement of 15 seats in the previous Knesset.

Exit polls show six parties each winning 7 seats: the right-wing Yemina and Religious Zionist parties, the nationalist Israel Beiteinu, the religious United Torah Judaism party, the center-Left Blue and White and the left-wing Labor party. The final two parties, the right-wing New Hope and the left-wing Meretz parties, both are hovering at six seats.

The Channel 12 and 13 exit polls had Likud winning 33 seats with the same end result – a Netanyahu-led coalition with a one-seat majority needed to form a government.

However, the price Netanyahu will pay will likely be high. While at least four coalition partners are necessary to form his government, Netanyahu and the Likud party will have tough negotiations ahead and will likely have to concede important cabinet portfolios.

The Yemina Party, led by Naftali Bennett, is kingmaker and will likely demand the highest price.

Bennett previously served under Netanyahu as defense minister, and his second-in-command, Ayelet Shaked, was justice minister. Bennett will likely demand Netanyahu accede to his desire for policy changes, including tackling Israel’s Supreme Court, which the Right sees as overreaching, as well as top portfolios like defense, foreign affairs and justice.

Given the closeness of the vote and taking into account the percentage of error, all parties will have to wait until the official vote counting is completed to see if the final tally matches the exit poll predictions. The official tally may find more than one party see a change of as much as one or two seats.

“A long and dramatic night is expected,” Channel 12 reported.

Two hours before the polls closed, the Central Elections Committee (CEC) reported that 4 million out of the 6.6 eligible voters had cast their ballots at ​13,685 polling stations around the country. Three thousand additional polling stations were set up to cope with the coronavirus crisis and allow the 15,000 Israelis currently infected with the virus and 85,000 in mandatory quarantine to be able to vote.

At 10:00 p.m. the doors on the polling stations were locked and tens of thousands of election officials began the task of unsealing the ballot boxes and hand-counting the votes. As each poll completes the count, the results will be reported to the Central Elections Committee at the Knesset in Jerusalem and the numbers will be added to the running tally on the CEC website.

With health regulations expected to slow down the count, it will likely be early Wednesday morning before enough returns are reported to determine the final results.

Clear results might not be available until Thursday, with the official results by law having to be announced on March 31.