Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu will with near certainty be Israel's next prime minister after approximately 90% of the votes counted, the Central Election Committee's data shows.
At press time on Wednesday, the Netanyahu coalition will consist of 65 MKs, while the Lapid bloc will consist of 50 and Hadash-Ta'al five.
The results after 87.6% of the vote were: Likud 32, Yesh Atid 24, Religious Zionism Party (RZP) 14, National Unity 12, Shas 11, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) eight, Yisrael Beytenu five, Ra'am five, Hadash-Ta'al five and Labor four.
Meretz stood at 3.19% of the general vote, below the requisite 3.25% electoral threshold.
Balad also stood underneath the threshold at 3.02%. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked stood at 1.16%. and will not be a part of the upcoming Knesset.
The remaining votes are approximately 570,000 "double envelopes" of citizens who voted outside of their hometowns, including IDF soldiers, Israel Police officers, diplomats abroad, disabled peopl, COVID-19 patients and more. The Central Election Committee was set to begin counting these votes at 11:00 p.m. on Wednesday, and said it hopes to have the full results by Thursday afternoon.
The percentage of double envelopes is expected to eclipse 10% of the general vote for the first time, leaving open the possibility for Meretz to push ahead of the threshold. However, the double envelopes historically have benefited the Right. Regardless, in order to pass the threshold Meretz would have to win 3.66% of the double envelopes – a rate nearly 0.5% higher than in the standard votes. In the previous election, in comparison, Meretz's performance in the double envelopes was just 0.26% higher than the regular vote. If Meretz performs similarly, it will miss the threshold by a few thousand votes.
MK react to exit polls and emerging results
According to Israeli law, the official results must be handed to President Isaac Herzog eight days after the election, meaning by November 9. The president then has a week, until November 16, to consult with the heads of the parties as to who should receive the mandate to form a government. These consultations will be broadcast live. The MK who receives the mandate, presumably Netanyahu, then has 28 days to form a government. The dates are a maximum, but the process could be quicker.
Other than voicing their thanks to supporters, most of the party leaders kept a low profile on Wednesday, as they waited for the official election results.
National Unity leaders Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar and former chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot met in the afternoon and announced that they were heading to the opposition, ending any doubt that they were planning on joining a Netanyahu government instead of RZP.
"The State of Israel faces great challenges that will be faced by a government that relies on extremist elements," Gantz wrote on Twitter alongside a picture of the three during their meeting. "We decided to continue establishing the state camp as a significant movement in the center of the political arena," he wrote.
"We respect the decision of the voters, and after the formation of the government, we will serve as a responsible opposition while we continue to build National Unity as a governing alternative," Gantz added.
RZP head MK Bezalel Smotrich called on Wednesday evening for the heads of the Netanyahu bloc to convene over the next few days in order to draw up coalition agreements, even before President Herzog awarded the mandate to Netanyahu to form a government. This would convey that the parties have "come to work," Smotrich said.
Shaked wrote a long post on Facebook, conceding defeat and summarizing her political experience.
She listed her accomplishments in the Justice and Interior ministries and wrote that unlike some other politicians who were good at writing "venomous" posts on Twitter, she knew the meaning of real change.
"Unfortunately, even within my own camp there were those who were quick to attack me, who apparently believe that revolutions of historic proportions are supposed to happen at the speed of typing a venomous and sophisticated tweet on Twitter.
"Well, they are not," Shaked concluded.