Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not be able to form a government, according to preliminary results from 97% of the regular polling stations reported by the Central Elections Committee unless he gains support from the Arab-Islamist Ra'am Party.
Netanyahu's bloc of Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and the Religious Party was found to have won 59 seats along with Yamina, two short of a majority. Ra'am's leader Mansour Abbas has collaborated in the past with Netanyahu and pro-Likud advocates are already working to legitimize the formation of a coalition with Arab support in the media. Abbas has justified working with Netanyahu and other Zionist parties if he can, in exchange, gain benefits for the Arab community which faces poor infrastructure, a growing murder rate and high unemployment.
According to the preliminary results, Netanyahu's Likud won 30 seats, Yesh Atid 18, Shas 9, Blue and White 8, United Torah Judaism, Yamina and Labor 7, New Hope, Yisrael Beytenu, the Religious Zionist Party 6 and Meretz 5. After initial indications that the Ra'am (United Arab List) Party had not crossed the 3.25% electoral threshold, current results give it five seats and the Joint List six.
Exit polls were mostly inconclusive throughout the dramatic post-election night. The three channels - 11, 12 and 13 - initially called a victory for Netanyahu's Likud assuming Bennett, who immediately said he would do what is right for the country, joins the coalition.Central Elections Committee head Orly Ades said preliminary results of the normal polling stations would be announced later in the day. Only after that, the Central Elections Committee will begin counting some 450,000 double envelopes, which are ballots from hospitals, nursing homes, emissaries, soldiers, prisoners and special polling stations for returnees at Ben-Gurion International Airport and for the sick and quarantined from COVID-19.
Netanyahu declared that his Likud had won in a speech he delivered at the Jerusalem International Convention Center at 2:30 a.m. He vowed to avoid a fifth election and called on politicians across the spectrum to enter a government he intended to build immediately.
He said that he has more than a double digit margin, the largest margin between the first and second parties in decades. "Israel is the world champion of vaccines," Netanyahu said. "We brought millions of vaccines for everyone just like we made peace deals for everyone.""I don't disqualify anyone from sitting with me," he said, "because the state of Israel demands a stable government."Hours earlier, Netanyahu declared on Twitter that he had won "a giant victory." Sources in Likud said Netanyahu would try to build a coalition as soon as possible, but Bennett's associates said they were "not in Netanyahu's pocket" and that joining his government was not a foregone conclusion.
Netanyahu called Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, who told him he was waiting for the final results and he would "act for the good of all the citizens of Israel." Netanyahu also called the other leaders in his political camp and asked them to join a strong, right-wing government.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid boasted that "Netanyahu doesn’t have 61 seats but the change bloc does," in a speech to activists of his Yesh Atid Party. He called parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc and vowed to coordinate their next steps together.
The turnout of 67.2% was a drop of 4.3% since last March's election in which the turnout was 71.5% and the lowest of the four elections of the past two years.
In a speech to his party's activists, Sa'ar downplayed his defeat and asked to wait for final results. He vowed to not enter a Netanyahu-led government, though Likud officials said they would try to woo New Hope MKs.
Lapid led his party to 18 seats according to Channel 12 and KAN and 17 according to Channel 13. Gideon Sa'ar's New Hope Party won a disappointing 6 seats according to all three polls.
Yisrael Beytenu won 7 seats pm all three channels. Blue and White won 7 according to Channel 12 and 8 according to KAN and Channel 13. Labor won 7 according to Channel 13 and KAN and 8 according to N12. Meretz won 6 according to KAN and Channel 12 and 7 according to Channel 13.
After struggling throughout the campaign, Meretz easily crossed the 3.25% electoral threshold, according to the exit polls. The Joint List won nine seats on Channel 12 and KAN on Channel 13 and KAN.
Gantz thanked his supporters for demonstrating their confidence in him.
"Starting tomorrow, I'll do my best to unite the pro-change block," he said. "And if we are forced to face a fifth round of elections, I will vigilantly protect our democracy, rule of law and security, because Israel comes first."
The exit polls came following a tense day of infighting with both political camps. Yamina fought for seats with the Religious Zionist Party, while Gantz accused Lapid of sending out false statements about Blue and White and other satellite parties.
Sarah Ben-Nun and Eve Young contributed to this report.