Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Beytenu list did even worse in
Tuesday’s election than public opinion polls predicted last week, winning 31
seats according to exit polls on three television networks and only 29 in a
Smith Research exit poll conducted for The Jerusalem Post.
In a clear
shift away from the Right, the TV exit polls found that the Center-Left bloc,
which won only 55 seats in the 2009 election, had risen to 58-59 seats. The
Smith poll, which predicted a fight between Kadima and Strong Israel over the
last three seats, found that the Center-Left bloc could still win a
Netanyahu tried to make the best of the results, saying he
viewed them as an endorsement of his leadership and vowing to immediately start
working on forming a coalition that would include parties on the Right, Left and
Center. He immediately called Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who won an
unexpected 18-19 seats, and asked him to cooperate with him in his next
“The exit polls clearly indicate that the citizens of Israel
want me to continue to serve as prime minister of Israel and form the widest
possible government,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook. “The results are a great
opportunity to make many changes for the benefit of the citizens of
But other officials in the Likud said in closed conversations
that Netanyahu had proven that he was no longer “king of Israel,” as he had been
crowned by Time magazine in May. They said he could expect a challenge to his
leadership in the Likud.
Likud officials also blasted Netanyahu for
brokering an unsuccessful deal with Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman,
and religious Zionists for joining Likud en masse but then voting for Naftali
Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party.
Yesh Atid will be the second- largest party
in the Knesset according to the exit polls, and likely the secondlargest in the
coalition. Likud officials said Lapid could be foreign minister if the Finance
portfolio were held for Liberman pending the resolution of his legal
The Education portfolio could end up going to Lapid’s No. 2,
Rabbi Shai Piron, who runs a nonprofit organization focusing on
Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich called on Lapid not to join
a Netanyahu government and to instead join her in trying to form an alternative
coalition focusing on socioeconomic issues. Yesh Atid officials said they would
not hurry to make a decision.
One of the biggest losers in the race was
The Tzipi Livni Party, which the exit polls predicted would win only six or
seven seats, far short of providing an alternative to Likud Beytenu as Livni promised.
She vowed to remain in politics and said
she was glad that the Center-Left had grown.
But Labor’s No. 2, MK Isaac
Herzog, blasted Livni, saying that if she would have accepted overtures from
Yacimovich to join Labor, the party could have won more than 30 Knesset seats
and formed the next government.
During the campaign, Lapid ruled out
entering the next coalition without another Center- Left party. If Kadima does
not pass the 2-percent threshold, as the TV exit polls indicated, the most
likely coalition is seen as Likud Beytenu, Yesh Atid, Bayit Yehudi, Shas and The
Tzipi Livni Party.
The Shas triumvirate was divided over whether it could
sit in a coalition with Yesh Atid. While Arye Deri said reluctantly that he
would not rule it out, MK Eli Yishai answered affirmatively without
“If Lapid wants to sit in a stable government that will make
compromises, we can sit with him,” Yishai said. “If he wants to continue with
political spin, it won’t happen.”
Deri expressed satisfaction and
optimism with his party’s exit poll results, and promised to protect the weak
sectors of society whom Shas has campaigned for in the next
Deri called for Netanyahu to form a national-unity government
with Labor, rather than with Yesh Atid.
The turnout in the election was
higher than expected, in part because of the sunny weather. The Central
Elections Committee said turnout was 66.6%, numbering some 3,767,000 people, an
increased over the 64.7% of the 2009 election.
The high turnout raised
the number of votes needed to cross the 2-percent electoral threshold. The
television exit polls indicated that neither Kadima nor Strong Israel would
cross the threshold.
If Kadima does not make it into the Knesset, it
would be a historic downfall for a party that won 28 seats in 2009 and formed
the government in 2006.
One of the big winners on Tuesday was Meretz,
which doubled in size from three seats in 2009 to six or seven, according to the
If the exit polls hold true, more than half of the MKs who
served over the past four years will not be coming back.
Dan Shapiro tweeted his congratulations to Israelis soon after polls closed
“Mazal tov to the Israeli people on their just completed
elections! Always inspiring to see democracy in action!” he wrote. He later
posted that the United States “looks forward to working closely with next
government of Israel.”
In Washington, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York),
ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement
praising Israel’s democracy.
“Israel demonstrated once again that it is
the only flourishing democracy in the Middle East,” he said.
on to congratulate Netanyahu for his firstplace finish but said that the “US
Congress stands shoulder to shoulder with the State of Israel” across its
He added, “We in Congress will always defend Israel.
This commitment is ironclad, a pledge made by Democrats and Republicans
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.