Netanyahu leads narrowly in Israeli election exit polls

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a rally in his support in Jerusalem, ahead of the Likud primaries later this week. December 22, 2019. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Ben Sales

(JTA) — Preliminary exit polls from Israel’s election show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a good chance of being narrowly reelected.

Israeli exit polls, however, have historically been unreliable, and this year they don’t account for a significant percentage of votes cast. Due to COVID, the final results might not be published until Monday. Especially given how close the election was, the exit poll may not reflect the composition of the next Israeli parliament, or Knesset.

But as it stands Tuesday, the exit polls show Netanyahu and his allies with the narrowest of majorities in the 120-seat Knesset, projected to win 61 seats, versus 59 for their opponents. To lead Israel’s government, a candidate must assemble a majority coalition generally made up of several parties. Should no candidate be able to assemble a coalition, which is what happened twice in 2019, Israel holds a repeat election.

Netanyahu’s Likud is expected to be the largest party, with 31 to 33 seats — slightly smaller than its current size of 36. The next-largest party is projected to be the centrist Yesh Atid, an opponent of Netanyahu, with 16 to 18 seats, also slightly smaller than its current 19 seats.

Altogether, a dozen parties are projected to make it into Knesset. Blue and White, the party that nearly beat Netanyahu last year before joining him in an ill-fated unity government, is set to drop from 12 seats to seven or eight.

The Joint List, an Arab-Israeli party, is also expected to fall from 15 seats to eight or nine. Raam, a breakaway Islamist party that had discussed allying with Netanyahu, is not projected to enter Knesset.

There’s some good news for the left. Labor, the shrunken party of Israel’s founders, was projected to win seven seats, a large jump from its current two. The left-wing Meretz was also projected to grow from four seats to six or seven.

On the far right, Religious Zionism, a party that includes anti-LGBT politicians and extremist settlers, was set to win six or seven seats. Shas, the Sephardi haredi Orthodox party, was projected to win eight or nine seats, while the Ashkenazi haredi party, United Torah Judaism, was set to win six or seven.

Two men who had hoped to become prime minister saw disappointing results: Gideon Saar, a former member of Likud who broke away to challenge Netanyahu, is set to win only a handful of seats.  And Naftali Bennett, a former Netanyahu deputy, is projected to win only seven or eight seats.

If Bennett joins Netanyahu’s coalition and these results hold, Netanyahu will win another term as prime minister. But the makeup of the Knesset could change, and after results are published, it is not a certainty that he or one of his rivals will succeed in building a coalition.


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