Likud: Losing the battle, but claiming victory in the war

The stunning exit polls catch the party off guard.

likud hq election night reactions 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
likud hq election night reactions 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
At 9:45 Tuesday night, at Likud's election event headquarters at Hangar 15 at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, heavy rain began pounding on the black metal roof, making a fierce, almost deafening noise. It was the storm before the quiet. The stunning exit polls that gave Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's Kadima a two-seat victory over the Likud and Binyamin Netanyahu caught the party, which until a few days ago looked like a shoo-in to form the next government, off guard. The large hall in the fairgrounds was filled with more journalists then Likud activists, but nonetheless a deep sigh was heard when the three large television screens broadcast the exit polls' unexpected results. It took a couple of minutes until the Likud faithful began to respond. First there were the chants of "Bibi, Bibi, Bibi," by a few activists. Then one activist shouted into his cell phone - after one exit poll showed that Livni had beat Netanyahu - that the right-wing bloc had in fact defeated the left and that Netanyahu would form the next government. "Sixty-four to 56 for the Right" he screamed into the phone. "Bibi is the next prime minister." That scenario was certainly not beyond the realm of possibility, but you certainly didn't feel that confidence in the hall. While the television screens showed dancing at the Kadima headquarters, outside of the few "Bibi, Bibi" cheers, there was little celebration at the Likud event. Instead, the few MKs in the hall were talking about how it was clear that only Netanyahu could form the next government, and that President Shimon Peres would in the end have no choice but to give Netanyahu the responsibility of trying to put together the next coalition. "This shows that the country opposes the withdrawals of Kadima," MK Gilad Erdan said. "The 70 Knesset seats that supported withdrawal are no more." Erdan said that he knows Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman "very well," and that Lieberman would not recommend to Peres that Livni form the government. "Lieberman has been painted in the media as an extremist," he said. "How can he now give the nod to Livni?" Likud MK and cabinet hopeful Yisrael Katz picked up Erdan's theme. "The question is who can form a government," he said. "Tzipi was unable to do it before, and won't be able to do it now. This was a victory for the national camp." Maybe so, but one thing it certainly wasn't: It wasn't a victory for Netanyahu.