After Israeli voters gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a resounding victory in Tuesday's election, despite pre-election polls showing him trailing the Zionist Union, the Likud leader has begun the work of forming a governing coalition. Who will be in the new government and what promises will be made to make it happen.
Follow our live blog for the latest updates from our reporters.
Zionist Union co-leader Tzipi Livni said Thursday she was very concerned with the election results, which currently show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party leading with 30 seats while her faction trails with 24 mandates.
"The results here are not just a victory for Netanyahu, they are actually a victory for hate and fear," she told Army Radio in reference to the premier's last-minute bid to garner votes by warning that the right-wing faced danger from the large turnout of Israeli Arab pollster.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog spoke to Army Radio Thursday morning about his surprising crushing defeat in the 20th Knesset election and Israel's political outlook in light of the results.
Herzog said he had gone to bed around 2 a.m. Wednesday believing his party had tied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud, only to find out from a text message at 6:45 a.m. from his faction's co-leader Tzipi Livni of the reality that Likud had pulled ahead by at least five mandates.
Herzog stated that the Likud party's sweeping win indicated by ballot counts Wednesday morning after the election were surprising, and that he "was not ready to clean up after him [Netanyahu]."
After additional ballots were counted overnight between Wednesday and Thursday, it appeared that Likud had risen from 29 to 30 seats and Meretz had gained another seat, totaling five mandates.
According to the most recent estimates, United Torah Judaism dropped to six seats along with the Joint (Arab) List dropping to 13 mandates.
According to Channel 2, the figures were calculated after some 200,000 ballots were counted from soldiers, absentees, prisoners and the hospitalized.
The Central Elections Committee was expected to release the official final count for the 20th Knesset election on Thursday afternoon.
Israel will have a new government in place in time for Independence Day celebrations, sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
With an unquestionable victory, Netanyahu is not expected to come under pressure to change his mind about forming a right-wing nationalist coalition with Kulanu, Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas and United Torah Judaism, rather than a national-unity government with the Zionist Union.
President Reuven Rivlin is to begin consultations with the elected parties Sunday, with the goal of appointing Netanyahu to form a government after official results come in next Wednesday.
Netanyahu is to have then four weeks to form a government, ending April 22, the eve of Independence Day. He can ask Rivlin for a two-week extension, but sources close to him said he did not want to do so, because following his victory, he was in a position of strength.03:03 a.m.
Ta’al Party Chairman Ahmad Tibi, one of the top leaders of the Joint (Arab) List, told The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday that “the results of the election are disappointing, as we thought that the Israeli public wanted change, but instead acted in a tribal way, and therefore we are left with Netanyahu.”
The public was also left with a poor political and economic reality, he said.
As for the Joint List, “it was something new to the voters,” he continued, adding that “13 seats is not a dramatic success, but the beginning of a path that could lead to future achievements.”
British Premier David Cameron tweeted his congratulations to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying: “As one of Israel’s firmest friends, the UK looks forward to working with the new government.”
Cameron’s spokesman said that Britain’s approach is to emphasize it wants to see a two-state solution and to do “all we can to support that.”
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog is expected to remain the unchallenged leader of the Labor Party despite its tradition of quickly deposing leaders who lose elections, sources in the party said on Wednesday night.
Labor has switched leaders every two years or so since Ehud Barak lost his bid for reelection as prime minister in 2001. One of the reasons is a clause in the party’s constitution requiring a leadership race every time an election is lost.
Party officials said that after Herzog won 24 Knesset seats, they did not expect a leadership race to be initiated any time soon, but that it would happen within the required 14 months of the election loss. Former Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, whom Herzog replaced, gave him her full support on Wednesday and her associates said she would continue to do so for the time being.
American Jewish Congress President and the American Council for World Jewry Chairman Jack Rosen congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his reelection
“As is typical in Israel's robust democratic system, many other voices and opinions will have to be taken into account in addition to Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud party’s 30 seats. Compromise will be essential for progress," he said.
Speaking of US-Israel relations, Rosen said, “Election season politics should not obscure the critical issues that Israel and the United States must confront in the Middle East. Iran's ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons must be stymied, terrorism must be defeated, and the effort to find peace and security must always remain a high priority. Only by standing together, as two strong democratic countries unshakably bound by our shared values and interests, can the US and Israel hope to succeed. I am certain that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu will set aside whatever differences they may have in the interest of achieving the goals Americans and Israelis believe is at the heart of our decades-long alliance.”
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his victory on Wednesday evening.
"The ZOA believes the result is a victory for realism and security, and a defeat for policies based on fantasy and appeasement, projected as hope and change by the Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni," the organization wrote. 9:30 p.m.
Privately, the White House is expressing deep disappointment with the result of Tuesday's elections, which they believe reinforces some of the greatest points of tension inflaming the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comments on the eve of the polls, apparently backing away from his support of a Palestinian state, particularly irked US President Barack Obama's team.
Senior US officials were caught by a genuine sense of surprise with word of Isaac Herzog's trouncing, as they had been relying on the same local polling data available to the public, two such officials told The Jerusalem Post
. Other officials declined to characterize the White House reaction, reinforcing a generally muted and controlled response.7:23 p.m.
The White House said on Wednesday that it was deeply concerned by the use of "divisive rhetoric" in the Israeli election that sought to undermine Arab-Israeli citizens.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested on election day that Left-wingers were trying to get Arab-Israeli voters out "in droves" to sway the election against him.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling on Air Force One that the United States would communicate its concern about the issue directly to the Israelis. 6:45 p.m.
The White House says US Secretary of State John Kerry has called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on the Israeli election; Obama will do so in coming days. 6:40 p.m.
J Street, the Left wing lobby group that offers itself and alternative to the long established American lobby group for Israel AIPAC, said on Wednesday that the election victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party was a "deep disappointment to all who hoped that Israel might choose a new direction for the country."
"The prime minister’s renunciation of the two-state solution and resort to a campaign grounded in fear and tinged with racism successfully moved 150,000 votes from other Right-wing parties into the Likud column in the campaign’s final days. But we fear that the cost to Israel in the long-run will be steep in terms of support here in the United States and internationally," J Street said in a written statement. 6:25 p.m.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Prime Minister Netanyahu in Hebrew following the Likud party's success in the elections. In a post on Modi's twitter account, the prime minister wrote in Hebrew "Mazel tov, my friend Bibi @Netanyahu. I remember our meeting in New York last September warmly," followed by a an English translation in a separate tweet.
The Arab League chief Nabi Arabi dismissed on Wednesday as "electioneering" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's vow to rule out a Palestinian state if reelected,
Arabi told AFP that there would be global pressure on Netanyahu for a peace deal.
Netanyahu's statements would "not be the policies of the future Israeli government," Arabi told AFP.
"I believe personally that he made that statement about... no two states to gain the votes of the extremists, particularly those Russian immigrants who went to Israel in the last 10, 15 years," he said.
The Arab League chief told AFP that he expected stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume after the next Israeli government is formed.
"I think there will be enough pressure on any Israeli government that the situation as it is cannot continue; Israel is going to be a pariah," Arabi said.5:50 p.m.
US Representative Nancy Pelosi said she respected the results of Israel's election. "I think that what they have produced will be a continued lively discussion about the peace process."5:33 p.m.
The United Nations said on Wednesday it expects Israel to continue with the Middle East peace process to negotiate a Palestinian state after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected on a pledge to abandon that commitment.
In the final days of campaigning ahead of Israel's election on Tuesday, Netanyahu said he would not permit a Palestinian state to be created under his watch and also promised to go on building settlements on occupied land.
"We expect any government that is formed as a result of these elections to continue with the process that has been put in place by the previous governments of Israel so that we can continue with negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians to realize the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security," UN spokesman Farhan Haq said. 4:55 p.m.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his re-election. "I congratulate PM Netanyahu on his election results. We look fwd to working w/ the gov't once formed. Israel has no greater friend than Cda."4:40 p.m.
The Head of the Zionist Union said on Wednesday afternoon that after his party's election defeat to the Likud the "realistic option for his party was to be in the opposition."
Herzog's Labour party formed the Zionist Union with Tzipi Livni's Hatnua party hoping that the move would result in an election result that could unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the Likud ended up winning 30 Knesset seats to the Zionist Union's 24.
"We have proven that we know how to be a fighting opposition," Herzog said at Labor headquarters in Tel Aviv. 4:20 p.m.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu has been an extraordinary leader for Israel, and I congratulate him on what appears to be a victory," Republican Senator Ted Cruz wrote on Wednesday.
"His electoral success is all the more impressive given the powerful forces that tried to undermine him, including, sadly, the full weight of the Obama political team," Cruz added.
Shuli Moallem-Refaeli is one of three Bayit Yehudi MKs - the others are Orit Struck and Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman - who will not serve in the 20th Knesset according to Wednesday's vote count, after the party dropped from 12 to eight seats.
However, unlike Struck and Wortzman, Moallem-Refaeli still has a chance of making it in after "double-envelope” votes – from soldiers, prisoners, hospital patients, polling station personnel and diplomats overseas - are counted.2:45 p.m.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu headed to the Western Wall in Jerusalem to celebrate his win.
Accompanied by his wife Sara, Netanyahu said "I am honored by the huge responsibility the nation of Israel has placed on my shoulders. I appreciate the people's decision to chose me and my party against all odds and also against strong strong opposition. I will do everything I can to worry about the welfare and security of every citizen of Israel."
He also placed a note in the wall.
There is no difference between Israeli political parties following the electoral victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, Iran's foreign ministry spokeswoman was quoted as saying by semi-official Mehr News Agency on Wednesday.
"For us there is no difference between the Zionist regime's political parties. They are all aggressors in nature," Marizeh Afkham told reporters at a weekly news conference in Tehran.
US Secretary of State John Kerry declined to comment on the Israel election when asked by reporters on the sidelines of nuclear talks with Iran in Lausanne, Switzerland.
. Former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Yuval Diskin, called on Center-Left parties Wednesday not to participate in a "delusional unity government with Likud" but instead focus on how to better define an alternative vision.
"I really hope that we won't see those whom we supported reaching out to be a fig leaf in order to form a delusional unity government....we need to make our differences clearer and define our positions better."
He went on to say, "Israel is strong and is committed to the defense of the Jewish state, but as a democratic country it also needs to be... economically and socially just by acting unified with respect to all its citizens regardless of religion, race or gender... a country that leads the world in the fight against racism and seeks to normalize relations with the Arab states and the Palestinians."1:08 p.m.
Hamas reacted to the results of Israel's election on Tuesday, saying that there is no difference between Israeli political parties, because there is a consensus among them to deny the rights of the Palestinian people and continue aggression against them. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri said the "Palestinian resistance is strong and capable of making its mark. The leaders of the occupation must think again about their stances after the failure in Gaza."
Number 5 on Meretz's list Tamar Zandberg called on Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On to retract her decision to step down on Wednesday.
"It's a bad morning for the Left. Zehava Gal-On's announcement is an example of leadership, integrity and courage that characterize her and is so lacking here. The failure is not Zehava's, but all of ours. I can't imagine the Knesset and public life without her and call her to retract her resignation."
Zandberg said that she hopes that Gal-On will retract her resignation if in the final count, Meretz gets 5 seats.
British Prime Minister David Cameron congratulates Netanyahu on his win via Twitter. 12:05 p.m.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's spokesman said Wednesday that the PA is not concerned with who will be Israel's next prime minister. Nabil Abu Rudeineh was quoted by the Bethlehem-based Ma'an News Agency as saying that the Palestinian Authority wants whichever Israeli government is formed to recognize the two-state solution with east Jerusalem serving as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
Abbas's speaker said that the PA would continue to work with any Israeli government that recognizes "legitimate international resolutions."
If the Israeli government should prove that it is not committed to a two-state solution, then there is no chance for a resumption of the peace process, Abu Rudeineh added.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday morning to congratulate him on Likud's win.8:48 a.m.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on Wednesday morning welcomed Likud's win.
"It was challenging and hard, but wisdom prevailed, and the Likud with Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu at the head again won mandates from the people to continue leading."
He continued: "The challenges ahead of us are heavy and complicated, and only the experienced and responsible leadership of Likud with Netanyahu at the head knows how to deal with the challenges. In security, economy, welfare, housing and every topic in our lives- we will continue on the path and lead Israel to new highs, and succeed."8:20 a.m.
The chief Palestinian negotiator expects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next Israeli government and has declared that the Palestinians in turn will push forward with legal efforts at the International Criminal Court.
“It is clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government, and for that, we say clearly that we will go to the Hague Tribunal, we will accelerate, continue and intensify” diplomatic efforts, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Agence France-Presse.7:54 a.m
Co-leaders of the Zionist Union Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni release statement saying that they will not stop fighting for the country of Israel.
"This morning has not been any easy one for us or our followers. We will lead and fight together with our partners to the Knesset with the values we believe in. We will fight for the Israeli citizens for social justice, diplomatic prospects, equality and democracy with hope and belief, in order to have a Jewish and democratic country, just and safe. We would like to thank everyone who believed in us, with all of our hearts." 7:07 a.m.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement early Wednesday morning inviting potential coalition partners to immediately enter talks for the swift formation of what is expected to be a religious-nationalist government in Jerusalem.
"The reality isn't waiting on us," Netanyahu said just hours after it became clear that his Likud party had scored a decisive victory over Zionist Union in Tuesday's poll. "Reality isn't taking a break. The citizens of Israel expect us to quickly put together a leadership that will work for the sake of the country's security, economy, and society as we promised to do, and that is what I will do."
The premier said that he had already spoken with the heads of parties that he plans to invite into his coalition, including Bayit Yehudi chief Naftali Bennett, Kulanu's Moshe Kahlon, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, Shas leader Aryeh Deri, and United Torah Judaism representatives Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni.
"The prime minister plans to immediately begin forming a government in order to complete the task within two to three weeks," he said.
Meretz chair Zehava Gal-On announced on Wednesday that she is resigning from her position at the helm of the party in the wake of the movement's disappointing showing in Tuesday's election, Channel 2 reported.
The left-wing party barely earned enough votes to get into the Knesset, with the official tally giving Meretz four seats. Television exit polls had given Meretz five seats, but the official count before dawn on Wednesday revealed that it had in fact dropped a seat.
Gal-On is preparing to hand the reins of the party over to MK Tamar Zandberg, Channel 2 reported.
With nearly 95 percent of precincts reporting before dawn on Wednesday, the Likud has emerged as the clear, undisputed victor in the elections.
According to the official up-to-the-minute tally, Likud wins 29 seats while Zionist Union comes in second at 24 seats.
The parties that follow are Joint Arab List (14); Yesh Atid (11); Kulanu (10); Bayit Yehudi (8); Shas (7); United Torah Judaism (7); Yisrael Beytenu (6); and Meretz (4).4:09 a.m.
With nearly 90 percent of precincts reporting before dawn on Wednesday, the Likud opens up a significant edge over Zionist Union in the distribution of Knesset seats.
According to the official up-to-the-minute tally, Likud wins 30 seats while Zionist Union comes in second at 24 seats.
The parties that follow are Joint Arab List (13); Yesh Atid (11); Kulanu (10); Bayit Yehudi (8); Shas (7); United Torah Judaism (7); Yisrael Beytenu (6); and Meretz (4).
With 81 percent of precincts reporting before dawn on Wednesday, the Likud holds a seven-seat edge over Zionist Union.
According to the official up-to-the-minute tally, Likud wins 31 seats while Zionist Union comes in second at 24 seats.
The parties that follow are Yesh Atid (11); Joint Arab List (11); Kulanu (10); Bayit Yehudi (8); Shas (8); Yisrael Beytenu (6); United Torah Judaism (6); and Meretz (5).
Eli Yishai's far-right outfit Yahad has so far failed to attract the sufficient number of votes to gain entry into the Knesset.
With 75 percent of precincts reporting before dawn on Wednesday, the Likud holds a seven-seat edge over Zionist Union.
According to official vote-counters, Likud wins 31 seats while Zionist Union comes in second at 24 seats.
The parties that follow are Yesh Atid (11); Joint Arab List (11); Kulanu (9); Bayit Yehudi (8); Shas (8); Yisrael Beytenu (7); United Torah Judaism (6); and Meretz (5).
Eli Yishai's far-right outfit Yahad has so far failed to attract the sufficient number of votes to gain entry into the Knesset.
With nearly 60 percent of precincts reporting before dawn on Wednesday, the Likud maintains its lead over Zionist Union.
According to official vote-counters, after tallying 57 percent of the ballots, Likud draws 24.4 percent of the vote; Zionist Union comes in second at 19 percent.
The parties that follow are Yesh Atid (8.8 percent); Joint Arab List (8.4 percent); Kulanu (7.6 percent); Bayit Yehudi (6.3 percent); Shas (6.1 percent); Yisrael Beytenu (5.6 percent); United Torah Judaism (5.2 percent); and Meretz (3.9 percent).
Eli Yishai's far-right outfit Yahad has so far attracted just three percent, insufficient for the minimum four-seat representation in parliament.
The returns on voting from ballot boxes indicate that the Likud has significantly extended its lead over Zionist Union.
According to Israel Radio, officials have counted the votes of 25 percent of booths across the country. The results indicate that the Likud wins 32 Knesset seats while Zionist Union garners 25 seats.
Yesh Atid is the third-largest party with 11 seats, Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu faction wins 10 seats, the Arab List nosedives to nine seats, the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas movement wins eight seats, Naftali Bennett's Bayit Yehudi dips further to seven seats, while Yisrael Beytenu, which has only mustered five seats, climbs to seven.
United Torah Judaism wins six seats while Meretz rounds out the list with five seats.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv after exit polls showed him either ahead of or tied with the Zionist Union in Tuesday's election.
"My friends, citizens of Israel, thank you. Against all odds we achieved a great victory!" he told his assembled supporters.
"I spoke with all party leaders in the nationalist camp, called on them to join me and form a government without delay," he said.
Officials close to President Reuven Rivlin told Channel 1 late Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next coalition if Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon offers his endorsement of the incumbent.
Yesh Atid is a political force that cannot be ignored in Israeli politics, party chairman Yair Lapid told supporters in Tel Aviv early Wednesday.
Lapid hailed the election result which places Yesh Atid as "the largest centrist party with double-digit number of Knesset seats."
The former finance minister triumphantly said that "we are here to stay."
Lapid said that his party would continue to combat "corruption and political extortion" while promoting "a friendly, embracing version of Judaism."
Isaac Herzog, the head of Zionist Union, told an adoring crowd of supporters at party headquarters in Tel Aviv just after midnight on Tuesday that his campaign recorded "an extraordinary achievement."
"Not since Yitzhak Rabin's election victory [in 1992] have we gotten this result," Herzog said.
The Labor chairman said that the "achievement would not have been possible without the brave partnership with Tzipi Livni."
Herzog said that the Zionist Union's result "enables us to return to the government."
"It's all wide open," he said. "I've talked with the heads of all of the parties. We don't know what the end results will be, and we will wait, but I plan to do all I can to form a socioeconomic coalition, a real socioeconomic coalition for Israel."
Herzog called on the heads of smaller parties to "unite under my banner and join a national reconciliation government."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu party garnered only five mandates in exit polls after Tuesday's Knesset election, said that his party had made it through despite "great forces that tried to eleiminate the party and did not succeed."
"Now we must concern ourselves with the good of the country and afterward we will return to being a party with 15-20 mandates," he said.
Moshe Kahlon, the head of the Kulanu Party, was noncommittal late Tuesday when asked which candidate he would endorse for the premiership.
"I said this throughout the campaign – I will endorse the candidate who is committed to healing the country's socioeconomic woes, bringing down housing prices, and lowering the cost of living," Kahlon told Channel 2.
Exit polls show Kahlon's party winning between nine and 10 seats in the parliament, putting him in an advantageous negotiating position with the heads of the two largest parties – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union).
Yahad, the far-right faction founded by Shas breakaway Eli Yishai, has won the minimum votes needed to gain representation in parliament, according to Channel 1 exit polls.
The other two networks - Channel 2 and Channel 10 - estimate that Yahad missed the cut.
If Yishai's party has indeed amassed the minimum votes needed to enter the Knesset, it would bolster the nationalist bloc of parties, making it more likely that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next coalition. 11:22 p.m.
Channel 2 announced a mistake in its exit polls on Tuesday night. The station lowered its poll numbers for Yesh Atid from 12 to 11 mandates and raised Kulanu's result from nine to 10 mandates.
After the polls closed on Tuesday night in the election for the 20th Knesset, the Central Elections Committee reported voter turnout at 71.8 percent, four percent more than the last election's 66.6% turnout. 10:58 p.m.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett spoke at his party's HQ Tuesday following the release of the first exit polls that left his party with an estimated 8-9 seats in the upcoming election.
Bennett said that he is not disappointed in the election turnout, but, on the contrary, stands "proud of the national-religious public for being pioneers and standing up to a political challenge."
After polls closed Tuesday night, Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon spoke on the telephone with Likud leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as with Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog.
Kahlon told the leaders of the 20th Knesset election's main contending parties, which appear head-to-head in exit polls, that he would decide with whom his party would align depending on official ballot results. 10:45 p.m
. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared victory after the first exit polls released following Tuesday's elections showed the Likud ahead of, or tied with, the Zionist Union.
Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page: "Against all odds, a great victory for the Likud, for the nationalist camp led by the Likud, and for the people of Israel."10:39:
The Zionist Union rejected conjecture that the results of exit polls following Tuesday's election show that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next coalition.
"The Likud continues to err. The right-wing bloc has gotten smaller. Everything is open until the final results are in and we will know which parties passed the electoral threshold and what kind of government we can form. All of the spin and the commentary is too early. We have formed a negotiating team with the goal of putting together a coalition led by [Zionist Union leader Isaac] Herzog.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday night called Shas leader Arye Deri, and the two agreed to meet Wednesday. Zionist Union co-leader Isaac Herzog also called the Shas leader after the polls closed.10:35 p.m
. Tel Aviv’s Tzavta theater erupted in applause and cheers Tuesday night when exit polls showed Meretz easily surpassed the electoral threshold with five mandates.
“We did it against all odds!,” an elated Meretz head Zehava Gal-on told the room.10:24 p.m
. Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon’s signature grin was on display Tuesday night as the first election surveys showed him taking 9-10 seats, slightly ahead of the last election polls that put him at 8.
Party activists chanted “Here comes the next finance minister!”
Kahlon is expected to take the Finance portfolio given his centrist positioning, which put him in the kingmaking position between the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of Likud.
: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett Tuesday evening following the release of the first exit polls.
Bennett congratulated Netanyahu for his "victory," and the two mutually agreed to begin negotiations for the formation of a nationalistic coalition government that would work to better the security and well-being of the Israeli people.10 p.m:
The first exit polls were released Tuesday as voting closed in elections for the 20th Knesset, suggesting a tight race between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and Isaac Herzog's Zionist Union.
Channel 2's poll had the Zionist Union with 27 mandates, the Likud with 28 mandates, the Joint Arab List with 13 mandates, Yesh Atid with 12 mandates, Bayit Yehudi with 8 mandates, Kulanu with 9 mandates, Shas with 7 mandates, United Torah Judaism with 6 mandates, Meretz with 5 mandates, Yisrael Beytenu with 5 mandates and Yahad failing to pass the electoral threshold.
Channel 10's polls had the Zionist Union with 27 mandates, the Likud with 27 mandates, the Joint Arab List with 13 mandates, Yesh Atid with 11 mandates, Bayit Yehudi with 8 mandates, Kulanu with10 mandates, Shas with 7 mandates, United Torah Judaism with 7 mandates, Meretz with 5 mandates, Yisrael Beytenu with 5 mandates and Yahad failing to pass the electoral threshold.
Channel 1's polls had the Zionist Union with 27 mandates, the Likud with 27 mandates, the Joint Arab List with 13 mandates, Yesh Atid with 12 mandates, Bayit Yehudi with 9 mandates, Kulanu with 10 mandates, Shas with 7 mandates, United Torah Judaism with 6 mandates, Meretz with 5 mandates, Yisrael Beytenu with 5 mandates and Yahad failing to pass the electoral threshold.
Joint Arab List leader Ayman Oudeh predicts getting 15 mandates, with 65 percent turnout in the Arab sector.
At 8p.m. the IPS said that the polls had closed at the nation's prisons and that the overall voter turnout for inmates stood at 81.74%, well over the nationwide percentage, which was around 65% by late evening.
Yahad party leader Eli Yishai said he had been informed Tuesday evening that his faction was lacking thousands of votes in order to reach the electoral threshold, and called on all Israeli citizens who had not yet cast their ballots to support him.
"If there's no 'Yahad' there is no Right!" the former Shas leader said on Facebook, adding that his campaign workers would do all they could to keep the faction and the right-wing bloc afloat.
Voter turnout was at 65.7 percent by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, according to the Central Elections Committee.
The latest figure registered slightly more than the 63.9% voter turnout at the same hour in the 2013 election.
"[Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu lost today the legitimacy to rule," Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said Tuesday, hours before the polling booths were set to close.
In a Facebook post, Gal-On accused Netanyahu of racist incitement against Israel's Arabs, slamming it as "unacceptable, even if it had come from a marginal politician, but when the prime minister of Israel dares to call the votes of 20% of the population a threat that must be acted against, when he describes their exercising their democratic rights as if they are an enemy invading the country, he transforms himself into unsuitable to serve in this role, regardless of the election results today."
The Likud reacted angrily on Tuesday to the Central Elections Committee's decision to bar the broadcast of Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu's press conference on radio and television on the grounds that it constitutes illegal electioneering on voting day. "While Tzipi and Buji have interviewed on all the television stations all day long, the first that they decided to ban the broadcast of was the prime minister. They will not shut our mouths. The prime minister will put out his comments on the Internet."
Netanyahu put out a short clip of him addressing supporters on a megaphone, saying "I'm asking you to do just one thing, those who haven't voted go vote Machal," he said, referencing the three word Hebrew symbol on Likud's voting slips. "Bring your relatives, neighbors, friends, everyone to vote Machal. If you want me as a prime minister and you don't want Herzog and his partner Livni atop a leftist government with the support iof the Arabs, you must vote Machal, Machal and again Machal."
In the election for the 20th Knesset, 54.6 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots by 6 p.m. on Tuesday, reported the Central Elections Committee.
The latest figure - taken from 8,791 polling stations - trailed slightly from the 55.5% voter turnout at the same hour in the last election in 2013.
Police arrested a 23-year-old Sderot resident Tuesday on suspicion of threatening former defense minister and MK Amir Peretz (Hatnua) at a voting station in the southern city.
The Central Elections Committee on Tuesday barred Israeli television and radio stations from broadcasting a scheduled press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The decision by Israel Elections Committee chairman Justice Salim Joubran came after a petition issued by the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid argued that such a press conference would violate electioneering laws on the day of the vote.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, saying that "Netanyahu's panic is embarrassing." Netanyahu had tried to get out the right-wing vote earlier on Tuesday by warning that Arab voters were going en masse to the polls. Herzog said in response that "those who want a prime minister that cares about his citizens and doesn't incite or divide must stand up, go out and vote."
51 criminal cases have been opened thus far Tuesday for people impersonating others at voting booths, theft of vote slips, or for threatening staffers.
Likud MK Ze'ev Elkin's grandfather, Arkadi Verchovsky, died at age 90 at his polling place in Neve Ya'akov, immediately after voting.
Verchovsky was a veteran of World War II who fought in the Red Army. He moved to Israel from the US in 2004.
Elkin told Ma'ariv
that his grandfather was active until his last day, and even went out to convince his neighbors to vote for Likud last week.
The voter turnout rate by 4 p.m Tuesday to the elections polls stood at 45.4 percent, according to the Central Elections Committee.
The latest figure trailed slightly from the 46.6% voter turnout at the same hour in the last election in January 2013.
Likud MK Miri Regev called on all of Israel's citizens to go to the polls on Tuesday and vote in favor of her party, lead by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in order to prevent the possibility of Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog from assuming the premiership.
As Regev cast her vote, she noted that constituents from the Israeli Arab sector were arrivng to polling stations and increasing the voter turnout. She said that buses provided by the V15 group that seeks a new government were transporting Israeli Arabs with the goal of overthrowing the current right-wing government.
State Comptroller Jospeh Shapira will tour the country’s election polling sites as around 100 of his staff police check those sites for Election Day violations.
The 100 staff members are split into 40 groups to better cover the country’s 19 regional polling cites as well as special polling sites, such as IDF, prison, and hospital sites, which have encountered serious problems.
The comptroller’s office will be checking for violations of: harm to purity of elections, proper spreading out of polling sites and their logistical operations, sufficient access to polling sites in specific areas and the manner in which the votes are collected and counted.
As of 2:00 p.m. voter turnout was 36.7% the Central Elections Committee said on Tuesday. The number represents a slight drop from the voter turnout in the 2013 election when at the same time then voter turnout was 38.3%.
Shortly after casting his Knesset vote on Tuesday, President Reuven Rivlin met with representatives of the apolitical seekers of social justice who set out from Tel Aviv on Thursday.
The group included Yaacov Cohen representing people with physical disabilities; Tal Kadish-Gekler representing the protest group ‘a park is not a storehouse’; Dr. Arel Buczinski of the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba and 17 year old Gal Yosef, who chairs the National Student Council.
The four, together with other marchers shared their manifold grievances with the president and voiced their strong opposition to the election campaigns of the various political parties and the vengeful incitement which characterized several of the campaigns.
Ta’al Party chairman MK Ahmed Tibi, fourth on the Joint (Arab) List, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “can relax”
since he does not seek to be on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, but one dealing with economic affairs such as the Finance Committee in order to have in impact on the Arab sector.
“Herzog or Bibi [Netanyahu's nickname] will not choose what positions we will have in the next Knesset, it depends on the voters and the number of mandates the Joint List gets,” said Tibi.
Asked about Joint List head Ayman Odeh’s comments to the Post on Monday, where he did not rule out recommending Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog to form the next government, saying such a decision would only come after serious talks.
1:35 p.m. "The Right-wing controlled government is in danger,"
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted on his Facebook page on Tuesday.
"Arab voters are going to the vote in droves. The Left-wing organizations are bringing them to the polling stations in buses," Netanyahu wrote.
Netanyahu implored voters to go vote Likud and to bring their family and friends in order to close the gap with the Labor (Zionist Union).
12:56 p.m. Voter turnout
as of 12:00 noon was 26.5% of eligible voters, the Central Elections Committee reported.
The figure was similar to the turnout percentage in the 2013 election at the same time.
Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said the high voter turnout rate is "good for the nation and good for Israel."
Voter turnout as of 10:00 on Tuesday was 13.7% representing 757,880 voters in 9,100 polling stations.
Turnout was 2.7% higher compared to the same time in the 2013 election, the Israel Elections Authority said.
As of 11:00 a.m. 10% of Israeli Arabs voted as opposed to only 3% at this time in the last election, according to the Arab Joint List party. 11:26 a.m.
"Today we have an opportunity to bring about a revolution and to end six bad years of Right-wing governments and bring hope and sanity back to the state of Israel," head of Meretz Zehava Gal-On said after she voted in Petah Tikva.
Gal-On addressed the undecided voters saying it was in their hands whether Israel would receive a Knesset without Meretz or if there would be a government of hope and justice that included Meretz.
11: 08 a.m.
According to the chairwoman of the Central Elections Committee, Orly Adas, as of 9 a.m., two hours after the ballots opened, voter turnout was 7.4%.
Former President Shimon Peres, who lives in Tel Aviv, specially came to Jerusalem to vote at the School for the Arts
Peres arrived slightly ahead of schedule and entered through a side door after one of his security guards was satisfied that there was no cause for concern.
This was the fourth time that Peres was voting at the School for the Arts. In addition to two previous Knesset elections, he also voted in the last Jerusalem municipal elections.
Addressing the media Peres said that there have been so many attacks against Israeli democracy, that the elections were a means of demonstrating Israel’s democratic process.
“I and most other Israelis care about Israel’s image and we care about democracy in our country,” he said. “Many people are watching the process of democracy in Israel and I call on everyone to contribute to an understanding by the world that Israelis care and that they prove this by voting.”10:37 a.m
. Head of Yisrael Beytenu Avigdor Liberman called on voters
on Tuesday to vote for any Zionist party from Meretz on the Left to Bayit Yehudi on the Right.
"It doesn't matter if it Meretz, Yisrael Beytenu or Bayit Yehudi. The main thing is to go out and vote for a Zionist party because it is important to preserve the Jewish and Zionist character of the state of Israel," Liberman said. 10:17 a.m.
On her official Facebook page Tzipi Livni said that she did not hesitate when voting because she believed that her vote was one of many that reflected "the hope and expectation that all votes for the Zionist Union represented ."
Livini added that the election period was difficult for her, suggesting that figures from other parties had sown a lot of "dramatics, lies, political spin, chauvinism, hatred and incitement but with little substance."
The Zionist Party's co-chair reiterate her party's adherence to the principles of protecting a Zionist state, a Jewish and Democratic state that is united, socially just and that promises freedom of expression.
Taking one final jab at the sitting prime minister, Livni reminded voters that " if you want Bibi to get out of the prime minister's office, vote for the Zionist Union."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party admitted to forging a recording of Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon
promising to support Netanyahu, according to a Kulanu spokesman.
The party distributed the recording to potential voters on Monday evening, but Central Elections Committee Judge Salim Joubran ordered the group to halt using the recording at Kulanu's request.
Kahlon called the recording "criminal" and asked Joubran to open a criminal investigation into it.
"We are pleased that Judge Joubran stopped the Likud from continuing to distribute this untruthful recording," the party said. "It is sad that the LIkud party, in a moment of desperation, chooses to deceive the public."
Joubran fined the Likud NIS 20,000 over the forged recording.9:49 a.m.
"We are here to fight for the State of Israel," said Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid,
speaking at the ballot beside his wife after casting his vote in Tel Aviv.
"There is a chance that instead of having a good government that will bring hope to the State of Israel, we will end up with the "Bujie" party and the Haredis who will sell all the Israeli people's assets."
"They will return the budget to the yeshivas, will cancel equality of burden and will arrive at a situation in which public funds will be taken from daily housing , single mothers, initiatives to decrease overcrowding in the classroom," Lapid added.
"Today is a celebration of democracy," Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said on Tuesday as he voted
near his home in Tel Aviv.
"The nation will decide who its leaders will be. The elections are about hope. Whoever wants despair and disapointement should vote for Bibi [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] but those who want hope and change should vote for me," Herzog said. 8:30 a.m.
Casting a ballot for the Knesset for the 18th time, President Reuven Rivlin called on all Israelis on Tuesday
morning to vote and “decide the state’s future each according to one’s world view.”
Entering the gymnasium of Jerusalem’s Yefe Nof Elementary School a few blocks from where he and his wife Nechama have lived for decades, the president said voting was really “mandatory” and that the citizenry should “take your fate in your hands.” Arriving at 8 a.m., they were among the first residents of the neighborhood to vote.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Tuesday to form a nationalist government.
As the voting booths opened for Election Day, Netanyahu posted a notice on his Facebook page pledging to first invite Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett into his coalition.
Netanyahu reiterated that he has no plans to form a unity government with the Zionist Union.
Nearly six million voters will be eligible to cast ballots in more than 10,000 polling stations across the country Tuesday in an election that is expected to attract the highest voter turnout since 1999.
Until that race, voter turnouts regularly approached 80 percent.
Since then, they have not hit 70%. But the closeness of the race – combined with boosted resources aimed at getting out the vote – are expected to significantly increase turnout.
Exit polls will be broadcast at 10 p.m. Tuesday on the three television networks, but official results will not be presented to President Reuven Rivlin until March 25. Formal consultations on forming a new government will begin next week, but Rivlin will receive calls before then in an effort to build a stable coalition as soon as possible.
Internal polls taken Sunday by the Zionist Union, the Likud and Bayit Yehudi all found that the race had tightened over the last few days, because the Likud had taken seats away from Bayit Yehudi voters and undecided voters on the Right.
After picking up requisite vouchers by Monday, many Israelis will ride public transportation free of charge on Tuesday to and from polling stations located more than 20 kilometers away from their residences.
Through Monday, the Central Election Committee issued vouchers at Israel Post Office branches, and on Tuesday, voucher holders can redeem tickets with their vouchers at Israel Railway stations and central bus stations around the country.
Those traveling on public transportation on Tuesday should expect an array of schedule changes throughout Election Day. From morning through 9 p.m., trains will depart once an hour, on a cyclical schedule, with trains resuming their normal weekday schedules at approximately 9 p.m., Israel Railways said. Passengers can check the company's website, rail.co.il
, for a list of the exact times trains will pass through each station during the day.
Egged, meanwhile, stressed that election day bus schedules are subject to changes, and that customers should remain updated by visiting the company's website at egged.co.il
or calling the customer service center at *2800. (Sharon Udasin)
Fair, warm weather expected for Election Day as Israelis head out to the polls on Tuesday
, they can expect pleasant weather, with fair to partly cloudy skies and a slight rise in temperatures, the Israel Meteorological Service forecasted.
Joint (Arab) List head Ayman Odeh told The Jerusalem Post
in an interview on Monday evening that he does not rule out recommending Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog to form the next government, saying that such a decision would only come after serious talks.
“We will for sure sit and listen to Herzog” and make known our position on promoting equality and improving all of Israeli society, said Odeh, adding, “But we cannot join the coalition.”
The Likud party slammed Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni following the report that Livni would not share the rotation for prime minister with her co-leader should they win the general election.
"Tzipi [Tzipi Livni] and Boujie [Isaac Herzog's] wavering is a cynical move that is meant to increase the gap between the Zionist Union party and the Likud which would ensure an extreme left-wing government with the cooperation of the Joint Arab List and the parties on the left.
The Likud said the move represents how a future left-wing government would respond to pressure on the Palestinian issue.
"As they surrendered with this move in response the polls, so they will surrender to international pressure and they will make concessions and retreat," the Likud said in a statement.
20:14 p.m. Leader of the Zionist Union party Isaac Herzog told Channel 2 that the alliance between him and his co-leader Tzipi Livni was as strong as ever.
He said that Livni had said in the past that she was prepared to give up the rotation if it hurt efforts to form a coalition.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Channel 2 following the news that Tzipi Livni was willing to give up the rotation for prime minister with her co-leader Isaac Herzog that the move proved that the two leaders were panicking and could not handle pressure.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett says Livni's willingness to give up the rotation is a sign Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form a unity coalition.
Zionist Union co-leader Tzipi Livni is prepared to forgo the rotation agreement with fellow co-leader Isaac Herzog if it will help in negotiations to form a coalition after Tuesday's election, Channel 2 reported on Monday.
According to the deal, which saw Livni bring her Hatnua faction into the Labor party to form the Zionist Union, she and Herzog would split the term, with each serving two years as prime minister should the party form the next coalition.
Palestinians from across the political spectrum said Monday that they were not pinning any hopes on the general elections in Israel, mainly because they do not see a difference between the two major powers, Likud and Labor (Zionist Union).
Although the Palestinian Authority’s official stance has been that the elections are an internal Israeli affair, some officials in Ramallah expressed hope that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party would lose the vote.
Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the leader of the rebel haredi group known as the Jerusalem Faction, issued a statement on Monday saying that he would not be voting in the upcoming election.
Although no clear instructions were given by the rabbi to loyalists of the Jerusalem Faction as to whom to vote for, Auerbach’s message certainly means that his supporters will not be voting for United Torah Judaism, the political party from where the renegade camp originated.
Auerbach, 84, and the Jerusalem Faction command as many as 30,000 votes, approaching one Knesset seat, but are engaged in a long-running feud with Degel Hatorah, the non-hassidic bloc of the UTJ.
Meretz focused its efforts on making sure the party doesn't slip below the 3.25 percent electoral threshold as Election Day approached. Party chairwoman Zehava Gal-On pleaded with Meretz voters to stay with the party, in a video she on Facebook, stating that "the strategic vote is the one that is in your heart."
"Don't give in to the false, dangerous spin that says that the head of the largest party will form the next government," she added. "That is a lie. That is an attempt to steal votes from Meretz. The truth is that the president tasks the person who receives the most recommendations with forming the government, not the head of the largest party. That's the law in Israel."
Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beytenu chairman, Avigdor Liberman, made a visit this afternoon to Moshav Nativ Ha'asara where he spoke at the site of an excavated tunnel built by Hamas terrorists. Liberman said that if he were defense minister, Hamas members would not be able to reconstruct tunnel networks. In addition, he also assured residents living near the Gaza Strip and in the South that the state is committed to their safety, and as defense minister he would make sure that the next round of fighting against Hamas will be the last.
Leader of the Kulanu party Moshe Kahlon was trying to rally support among undecided voters in a telephone blitz from his party's headquarters in Lod on Monday.
"Only a strong Kulanu can bring about changes that will lower the cost of living, solve the housing crisis and close the social gaps," Kahlon said on Monday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in a neighborhood located beyond the green line he helped found as the backdrop on Monday for an election eve bid to win back right-wing votes. "The choice is symbolic: the Likud led by me, that will continue to stand firmly for (Israel's) vital interests, compared with a left-wing government ... ready to accept any dictate," he said in a campaign speech located in Jerusalem's Har Homa neighborhood.
An internal Likud poll has shown for the first time that a majority of Israelis do not believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government, a Likud source said Monday.
On March 9, the Likud's data showed that 62.3% thought that Netanyahu would form the coalition and 19.9 % thought that Zionist Union leaders Issac Herzog and Tzipi Livni would form the government. On Monday, for the first time, the number believing Netanyahu would form the government fell to 49.6 %, while 30.4 % thought Herzog would form the coalition. It marked the first time since the election campaign began that the number dipped below 50 percent. The polls are taken by McLaughlin and associates, the American Republican strategist working for the Netanyahu campaign.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at Likud campaign headquarters in Or Yehuda. "There is still a gap between Likud and Labor. We can still bridge that gap. The way to do it is for the entire nationalist camp to vote [Likud] ... Tzipi and Buji would build a government with the Arab list, whose secretary-general said Hamas is not a terror group. The way to avoid that is to vote [Likud]."2:15 p.m.
Yahad leader Eli Yishai sent a letter of reconciliation to Shas leader Arye Deri Monday after having challenged Shas for the ultra-Orthodox vote. "The time has come to work together and to end the disagreement," Yishai wrote in the letter, calling on Deri to work together with Yahad in the run-up to Tuesday's election.
Bayit Yehudi officials confirmed on Monday that internal polling showed the party dropping to a single-digit number from last week's polls giving it an average of 11.8, shrinking the gap between Likud and Zionist Union. MK Ayelet Shaked wrote on Facebook Monday that "24 [for Likud] and 12 [for Bayit Yehudi] are 36 seats loyal to the Land of Israel, but 27 seats for Likud and nine for Bayit Yehudi, God forbid, means that there won't be a change in the Justice Ministry, that Naftali Bennett will be the head of a faction in the opposition, that the Land of Israel will be left at the mercy of [former Shin Bet director and current Likud candidate] Avi Dichter."
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said during a campaign trip to the North that "in less than 24 hours we will go to the polls and already the corruption is back. They are giving away public money wholesale, trying to cancel equal service for all. Both Bibi and Buji will give the money back to the yeshivot."
. The Likud party responded to former prime minister Ehud Barak's endorsement of Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog for prime minister. "The last time they brought about the second Intifada and buses blowing up in the heart of our cities. This time, they are again using left-wing organizations with millions of dollars flowing from abroad in order to bring up the Arab vote turnout. The only way to stop it is by having more votes to Likud."10:11 a.m.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak put his support behind Zionist Union's Isaac Herzog. In a statement, Barak, who also served as defense minister and IDF chief of staff, said that Herzog is a balanced, experienced and responsible person.9:15 a.m.
Police complete security arrangements for Election Day tomorrow across country. Extra officers will patrol areas at 10,000 polling stations, National Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says.