Israel election exit polls suggest Netanyahu on brink of winning narrow majority


Jerusalem
CNN

Former Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu is on the brink of a triumphant return in Israel, with early exit polls suggesting he may have a narrow majority in the country’s fifth national election in four years.

If the exit polls are correct — a big if — Netanyahu and his political allies are on pace to win more seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

As expected, the first exit polls from the country’s three main broadcasters late on Tuesday indicated that no party had won enough seats to govern on its own, meaning it would be necessary to form a coalition government.

Exit polls estimate that pro-Netanyahu parties will win 61 or 62 of the 120 seats in parliament. The alliance includes Netanyahu’s Likud party, Religious Zionism/Jewish Power, Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Exit polls show that the coalition supporting incumbent Prime Minister Yair Lapid, which includes Yesh Atid, National Unity, Israel Beiteinu, Labor, Meretz and Ram, is poised to win 54 or 55 seats.

Exit polls indicated that the Arab party Hadash/Tal, which is unlikely to support any party, is set to win four seats.

The election was marked by the highest voter turnout since 2015. The Central Election Commission said 71.3% of eligible voters cast their ballots, higher than the last four elections that resulted in deadlocks or short-lived governments.

Netanyahu spent the closing weeks of the campaign criss-crossing the country in a truck converted into a stagecoach encased in bulletproof glass. Pro-Netanyahu ads — and those depicting his opponents as shadows — are plastered on the sides of buses.

It is not yet certain that Netanyahu has made a comeback after being sidelined by Lapid after last year’s election.

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Exit polls are projections based on interviews with voters on Tuesday, not official results. Results can change throughout election night — and may even back. The official results are not final until Wednesday or Thursday.

After the official results are in, President Isaac Herzog invites the politician he thinks will be able to form a government to open coalition negotiations.

Interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid casts his vote at a polling station in Tel Aviv on November 1, 2022.

Netanyahu’s return as head of government could bring fundamental changes to Israeli society.

Netanyahu’s government includes the newly rising Jewish nationalist Religious Zionism/Jewish Power coalition, whose leaders include Itamar Ben Gvir, once convicted of inciting apartheid and supporting terrorism.

If the exit polls are correct, the far-right alliance will almost double its representation in the Knesset. The group held six seats in the outgoing parliament; Exit polls are saying he won 14 or 15 seats this time.

Asked by CNN on Tuesday about fears he would lead a right-wing government if returned to power, Netanyahu responded with an apparent reference to the Ram Party, the first Arab party to make history last year. Israeli government coalition.

“We don’t want a government with a Muslim Brotherhood that supports terrorism, denies the existence of Israel, and is quite hostile to the United States. That’s what we’re going to bring,” Netanyahu told CNN in English at his polling station in Jerusalem.

And Netanyahu allies have talked about making changes to the judicial system. That could end Netanyahu’s own corruption trial, where he has pleaded not guilty.

Netanyahu is one of the key issues not only in Tuesday’s election but in the four before it, dividing voters — and politicians — into camps based on whether or not they want the man universally known as Bibi in power.

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Part of the difficulty in building a stable government over the past four elections is that some political parties agree with Netanyahu on these issues, refusing to work with him for their own personal or political reasons.

Regardless of whether exit polls are correct or not, they are just exit polls, not official results.

It will take some time to get the official results — they may be ready as early as Wednesday, but it could be Thursday before the final makeup of Israel’s 25th Knesset becomes clear.

This is partly because parties must win at least 3.25% of the total vote to gain any seats in the Knesset, a threshold established in an attempt to facilitate coalition formation by keeping very small parties out of the legislature.

To determine how many seats each party will get, election officials must first determine which parties have crossed the threshold. Then they can distribute seats to parties based on how many votes it takes to win a single Knesset seat and the number of votes they receive.

This is where the real wheeling and dealing begins.

Even if the election results are chaotic, there is a chance that clever negotiators can pull together a surprising coalition the way Lapid did last year.

On the other hand, even if, on paper, one leader or the other seems to have the support to form a majority government, they still need to get smaller parties into coalition agreements.

And those smaller parties have demands – control of specific ministries, funding for projects or programs important to their constituents, bringing in new laws or scrapping old ones.

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Potential prime ministers have to balance the competing demands of rival coalition partners, each of whom knows they hold the keys to keeping the head of government in office.

And whoever becomes prime minister – if anyone does – will face the same problems.

As in many other places in Israel, the cost of living is skyrocketing, with fuel and grocery bills rising. An Israel Democracy Institute poll this summer found that the party’s economic platform is far and away the most frequently cited reason for choosing who to vote for. Nearly half (44%) of Israeli voters said it was the most important factor, ahead of a quarter (24%) who said the party leader was crucial.

Any new prime minister will have to deal with a conflict between Israel and Palestinian militias that has claimed more lives on both sides this year than at any time since 2015.

Israel Defense Forces have been conducting frequent raids for months in the occupied West Bank – particularly in Jenin and Nablus – as they try to arrest known attackers and seize weapons, they said.

As a tactic, it doesn’t seem to have reduced the level of violence: At least one Israeli civilian was shot dead near Hebron in the West Bank on Saturday and others were wounded in the same incident — two medics who responded, one Israeli and one Palestinian. A day later, a Palestinian man rammed his car into five Israeli soldiers near Jericho. Both Palestinian attackers were killed in a cycle of violence that the new prime minister will have to deal with — if, there is a new prime minister as a result of Tuesday’s vote.

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