Exit Polls Show a Deadlock in Israel Elections



JERUSALEM – Exit polls in Israel show that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not won enough seats to put together a majority coalition of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. The same exit polls also show, however, that neither does challenger and former Israeli army head Benny Gantz.

Israel’s three main television stations had slightly different results based on their own exit polls. One had Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White tied with 32 seats apiece. Another had Blue and White at 34 and Likud at 33. A third had Blue and White at 33, and Likud at 31.

Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz commented on the exit polls, preferring to wait until the final results were in.

But other Likud officials did comment.

“Benjamin Netanyahu will either be prime minister or we will go to third elections,” Likud MK Yoav Kisch told journalists. “I can’t see another option.”

It was the first time in Israel’s history that a second election was called so quickly. As elections are a national holiday here, they cost the Israeli economy millions of dollars, although many Israelis spent the unexpected day off at the beach.

Members of the rival Blue and White Party said it’s time for Netanyahu to go.

“We have said all along that we want a unity government, headed by Blue and White, with the Likud and [Avigdor] Lieberman, but without Netanyahu,” a spokesman for Yair Lapid, Gant’s partner, told the Times of Israel. “That’s also what the majority of the Israeli public wants.”

This kind of deadlock is unprecedented in Israeli politics. Once the final results are in, President Reuven Rivlin will hold consultations with each of the party heads, and ask either Netanyahu or Gantz to form a government.

The kingmaker this time, as last time, is former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, head of the mostly Russian-supported Yisrael Beitenu party. He favors a unity government with Netanyahu’s Likud, Gantz’s Blue and White, and his party, without the ultra-Orthodox or other smaller parties.

After the last election, Gantz said he would consider this type of government only if Netanyahu stepped down as Likud leader. Netanyahu is facing a series of corruption allegations, including fraud and breach of trust.

Netanyahu had hoped to win a clear majority and many expected he would then legislate immunity for himself.

Yossi Klein Halevi of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem said the election was a vote for or against Netanyahu.

“Behind the personal referendum, there is a deeper referendum this election is expressing,” he said. “It worries me very much, because for the first time we have in effect a referendum on democracy.”

Once final results are in, Israel’s president will consult with the leaders of each of the parties and recommend either Netanyahu or Gantz to try to put together a government. So far, it doesn’t look like either will be able to do that.





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