Netanyahu Pulls Through In Final Election Count

With over 90 percent of polling stations reporting results, Tuesday’s Israeli legislative election has shifted toward a victory for incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his likely coalition partners.

Initial exit polls had indicated a near-tie for Netanyahu’s Likud party and its closest rival, a coalition of candidates called Zionist Union led by Isaac Herzog. But the final hours of the campaign seem to have reflected well on Netanyahu’s prospects. (RELATED: Netanyahu Neck-And-Neck With Rivals In Exit Polls)

Alongside Likud, other secular right-wing parties performed more weakly than expected, but together with religious Jewish parties they are still expected to help form the governing coalition of 61 seats that Netanyahu needs to control Israel’s Knesset. Initial analyses also predict centrist parties Kulanu and Yesh Atid will join Netanyahu’s bloc, despite their leaders’ testy personal relationships with the prime minister.

Tuesday’s election showed higher turnout among voters compared to the last election, held in 2013: More than 70 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. Despite predictions that Israeli voters would prioritize the economy — considered Zionist Union’s strong suit — over national security, fears over the Palestinian question and the threat of an American nuclear deal with Iran have apparently taken the upper hand.

Once the final tally is issued, Netanyahu and his potential allies will have to bargain for seats in a governing cabinet of ministers. The final government will then require confirmation by President Reuven Rivlin, who on Tuesday evening expressed a preference for a unity government, sharing power between Likud and Zionist Union. However, Rivlin is unable to block a coalition of the size that Netanyahu is likely to enjoy.

Tuesday’s Likud victory comes amid accusations by the left of racism and fear mongering. Halfway through Election Day, Netanyahu announced that Arabs were “voting in droves” for the Joint List, the likely Zionist Union ally that ultimately came in third place. And on Monday, he announced that if reelected he would prevent any move toward the creation of a Palestinian state, a significant move toward the right from his previous support for a two-state solution. (RELATED: On Election Day, Israeli Politicians Continue To Surprise)

Likewise, centrist Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon accused Likud of forging an audio recording in which he seemed to endorse Netanyahu’s leadership — a move that Likud representatives have admitted to.