Israeli opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing/ultra-Orthodox camps are set to win a Knesset majority in today's elections, initial exit polls predict, with either 61 or 62 seats out of 120. Most polls indicate that the Likud party received 31 seats, while Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid garnered only 24 seats. The third largest party is now Religious Zionism of far-right Bezalel Smotrich and ultranationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir, which apparently got 14 seats.
One out of the three Arab parties — Balad — apparently did not make it past the Knesset-entry threshold, though the voting rate within the Arab sector was much higher than expected up until two weeks ago. The final results might still change that and determine whether the Likud would get 61 or 62 seats. Likud seniors were cautious this evening to express full joy, noting that final results would be published only later in the week, either on Thursday or Friday.
Senior Likud member Miri Regev reiterated this evening Netanyahu’s position that Ben-Gvir was entitled to become minister. US senior officials and American Jewish leaders had warned recently against appointing the ultranationalist as a minister in a future cabinet.
The Central Elections Committee now has one week to publish official results. After submitting the official results to the president, Isaac Herzog will invite the heads of the parties so as to hear whom they recommend for the task of assembling the government. The person tasked with this mission has three weeks to negotiate with future partners and can ask for another two weeks if he fails to do so in the first period.
Netanyahu’s expected comeback comes after five election rounds in less than four years. The last four elections all resulted in a political stalemate. Netanyahu first served as premier between 1996-1999, winning the elections that took place after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. He then came back to power in 2009, serving until 2021. He is already Israel's longest-serving prime minister.
The last public opinion polls of Oct. 28 predicted a tie between the two blocs, offering Netanyahu’s camp 60 Knesset seats (one short of the majority).
Shortly before the first exit polls were published, the Central Elections Committee reported a 66.3% turnout as of 8 p.m. local time, much higher than the 60.9% at the same time in 2021. It is the highest number at that time since 1999 when 71.4% had voted by 8 p.m.