For Netanyahu, they were deeply unpleasant: although he was virtually ensured another term, exit polls trimmed his Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance’s margin to 30 or 31 of the parliament’s 120 seats from the 42 it holds now.
But for Yair Lapid of the centrist party Yesh Atid (There is a Future), it was a double victory. The genial silver-haired TV personality, although new on the political scene, garnered a possible 19 seats, projected to top the once-powerful Labour Party and propel him into a new role as Israel’s kingmaker.
Labour was expected to win 15 to 17 seats.
“(Lapid’s) victory is the victory of modern politics,” said the Haaretz newspaper. “The politics of the Internet and reality shows.”
“According to the exit polls, it is clear that Israeli citizens decided that they want me to serve as prime minister of Israel,” said Netanyahu on his Facebook page Tuesday, “and that I form the widest possible majority (coalition).
Lapid’s win appears to be bad news for the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities represented by Netanyahu’s current coalition partner Shas, which polled at about 12 seats. The extreme religious groups’ government handouts and draft exemptions are opposed by Lapid, and their privileges resented by many Israelis.
The poll also showed unexpected vigour in the voting public, as election officials said the turnout was above 66 per cent, the highest in more than a decade, according to the BBC. It followed a day of good weather and last-minute social-media pleas from leaders pushing their supporters to the polls.
In spite of a much-publicized campaign, however, right-wing dot-com millionaire Naftali Bennett failed to sprint into the winner’s circle with his newly formed Jewish Home party. Instead, it was set to take a respectable but unspectacular 12 seats.
“Israelis are asking for a moderate coalition,” Marcus Sheff, executive director of the advocacy group The Israel Project, told the New York Times. “Israel’s middle class wasn’t asleep as people assumed. The embers of (last summer’s) social protest are still strong.”
That doesn’t reflect the anger at Israel’s growing economic inequality that brought thousands to the streets last summer, as the left-wing parties that campaigned on middle-class discontent remained the underdogs. Nor is it likely that the Jewish settlements that accelerated under Netanyahu will come to a halt or that the peace process will resume with the Palestinians.
“If I were a settler tonight, I’d be looking forward to another few years of settlement expansion,” Sheff said in a phone interview.
The election has done nothing to raise prospects for a peace deal that will allow the creation of a Palestinian state, said Diana Butto, a Palestinian policy adviser.
“For Palestinians, I don’t think it will be any different. There may be shades of grey between the parties (in the new coalition), but it is still entirely grey,” she said. “There is not going to be any coalition that will scale back the settlements, or change public opinion.”