JERUSALEM, Israel – Exit polls indicate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has beaten rival Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, but it is unclear if he will secure enough seats to have a parliamentary majority and guarantee another term in office.
Jubilation erupted at Likud party headquarters Monday evening as exit polls streamed in revealing that Netanyahu had defeated Gantz.
“It’s a win against all odds because we stood up against powerful forces. They already eulogized us. Our enemies said, ‘The Netanyahu era is over.’ But we turned the plate on its head,” Netanyahu told a crowd of supporters, adding that it is “the biggest win of my life.”
Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc is on track to win at least 59 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, just short of the 61 seats he needs to form a governing majority.
Still, Likud issued a devastating blow to Blue and White. Pollsters predicted that the two parties would be neck-in-neck after the third election and unable to break through a nearly year-long political deadlock. But Netanyahu’s surge in seats gives him a decisive advantage over Gantz, who is projected to win 32 seats.
Netanyahu’s next task is to form a majority government coalition. If he fails, Israel will be on track for a fourth election. However, his supporters believe this time he won’t be denied.
Still, Gantz refused to concede, opting to wait until every vote is counted before accepting defeat.
“We created something called Blue and White. We merged our documents and principles to one place and I am telling you that we won’t compromise on our principles and our way,” Gantz said Monday night.
In past campaigns, Likud counted on former defense minister Avigdor Liberman as a solid part of the right-wing bloc. But he started the election stalemate last year after refusing to join a government with Likud’s ultra-orthodox allies, who are not Zionists and refuse to serve in the military. Liberman is head of the secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which won about seven seats.
On Tuesday, Liberman maintained his role as the kingmaker who could give Netanyahu the seats needs to form a government, but Liberman says he won’t compromise.
“We will not join any government led by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that includes Shas and United Torah Judaism (ultra-orthodox parties),” Liberman tweeted.
Even if Gantz and Liberman won’t compromise, the Likud camp believes in the coming days they can find Knesset members from the left or the center to join them, and save Israelis from a fourth election.
Israel will not have final election results until Thursday, after soldiers, diplomats, and those in mandatory coronavirus quarantine have their votes counted.
Netanyahu hopes a potential parliamentary majority will give him the power and protection he wants to fight the corruption charges against him.
Netanyahu is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, although he maintains his innocence. His trial will begin on March 17 but he hopes to clinch together a government majority before then.
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