The majority of votes from Israel’s national election have been tallied, and Israel appears to be barreling toward a right-wing government headed by former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Exit polls immediately published as the vote ended late Tuesday showed Netanyahu on a secure path to victory. For Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, it is also a political comeback after over a year as head of the opposition.
As the hours passed, the gap between the right-wing bloc and the opposing bloc grew, allowing Netanyahu to achieve a stable majority. After the fifth election in less than four years, the result could mean Israel has been extricated from its lengthy political paralysis. The right-wing bloc likely will be able to secure a majority of the 120 seats in the parliament, or Knesset.
It is expected to be the most right-wing government the country has ever seen, made up of an alliance with far-right, ultra-religious parties.
Netanyahu’s Likud party is projected to have a little over 30 seats. The left-of-center Yesh Atid party, Likud’s main opponent, is expected to have from 22 to 24 seats.
“There will not be a situation in which Binyamin Netanyahu will not be prime minister,” said Roni Rimon, a strategic adviser and partner at the public relations firm Rimon Cohen & Co. “This is a victory for the right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu.”
The Likud party did not grow from the last election, held in March 2021, but the bloc is expected to grow by a few seats.
“This may not be a mathematical drama, but it is a big political one,” said Rimon.
The deadlock between the two blocs has been the root cause of the political paralysis in the country.
In the Israeli political system, no one political party has been able to form a government without putting together a coalition. Despite what appears to be a clear path to power for Netanyahu, there still could be weeks of tough deliberations and political strong-arming.
The main cause of growth in the right-wing bloc can be attributed to the rise of the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism party, an alliance led by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir. The party is expected to have 14 or 15 seats and likely will be Netanyahu’s main coalition partner.
Tuesday’s vote was largely about Netanyahu and his ability to run the country. On trial on several charges of corruption, Netanyahu, his opponents believe, is not fit to lead until cleared by the courts. But the Likud party chief and former prime minister, who denies all wrongdoing, is supported by a large bloc undeterred by his legal woes.
Netanyahu’s opponents hoped the trial would weaken support for him.
“Netanyahu proved he is still relevant, but Ben-Gvir even more so,” said Yonatan Freeman, from the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Both have a strong support base. No one, not even from within the Likud, will be able to circumvent Netanyahu now.”
From the beginning of the most recent campaign, Ben-Gvir has been the star of the election. With sweeping support, the right-wing bloc is the biggest winner of the campaign.
Both ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, increased their power, further strengthening the bloc.
Netanyahu’s trial was not the only factor impacting results. Recent security events, which have rattled the feeling of personal security among many Israelis, further pushed voters to the right. Tensions between Jews and Arabs within Israel have been high since violent infighting last year.
The Religious Zionism party leaders have a history of extreme anti-Arab rhetoric and staunch opposition to any concessions toward the Palestinians. Ben-Gvir, who has announced he is seeking the public security ministerial portfolio, promised to “reassert ownership of this state,” after the exit polls were published.
“We are witnessing the bolstering of the extreme right,” said Eran Vigoda-Gadot, a professor of public administration at the University of Haifa. “The strengthening of extreme elements on either side show a growing polarization in society.”
The growth also came after over a year in which most of the right wing sat in the opposition.
“When power was taken from the right and the Likud, it served as a motivator for Likud supporters to go out and vote,” said Rimon.
Official results will be presented next week to Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog. The current totals do not include 500,000 double-envelope ballots, which Central Elections Committee representatives began counting on Wednesday afternoon. The double envelopes contain the ballots cast by soldiers, prisoners, and diplomats. People with disabilities and people in isolation due to COVID-19 infections also cast double-envelope ballots.
Throughout the election campaign, Yesh Atid, led by caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, had an uphill battle against the right-wing bloc.
“The Israeli right has the younger demographic in its favor,” said Rimon, “Lapid and the left had basically nothing to do to defeat this; he had no chance.”
The appeal of the Religious Zionism party to new voters and the younger population proved solid in the balloting. In recent years, Israelis have increasingly leaned right.
“The election results are a reflection of Israeli society at this point in time,” according to Rimon.
“Nobody expected him to win,” Vigoda-Gadot said of Lapid. “He failed to manage a successful campaign and read the political map, but he will bounce back.”
Lapid’s outgoing government is an unlikely marriage of a myriad of parties ranging from the left to the right. Almost all of the parties that participated in the government took a major hit in yesterday’s election.
Yesh Atid is expected to grow significantly in the final tally and so is the National Unity party led by Benny Gantz. The United Arab List (Ra’am), the Arab party that made history by joining Lapid’s coalition, also slightly increased its power.
However, on the losing side are several parties including the once mighty Labor party, which is teetering on the edge of the threshold needed to enter parliament. It likely will end up with just the four seats needed to do so, a far cry from the days when it was the leader or a key building block of many coalition governments.
Meretz, the farthest left among the Zionist parties, likely will not cross the threshold.
Still, these scenarios could change once all the votes are counted and verified.
The greater drama occurred in the Arab vote, chiefly represented by three predominantly Arab parties in this election. The splits within the Arab community were exposed and took a heavy toll on the final vote tally. The Palestinian nationalist Balad party is expected to find itself outside of the Knesset. When previously united as the Joint List, the predominantly Arab parties managed to maximize their representation.
“The Arab leadership is very divided and did not convince their audiences to go out and vote for them,” said Vigoda-Gadot.
“Many in the Arab public feel hopeless and also indifferent,” according to Rimon. While Arab voter turnout was higher than expected, it was much lower than the turnout among the general population.
Another political loser of this election is outgoing Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. Once considered a possible contender for the premiership, she ran alone as the head of the right-wing Jewish Home party and crashed with little public support. Her failure could be seen as punishment for partnering with Lapid against the Netanyahu bloc in the outgoing government.
Once official results are in, Herzog likely will task Netanyahu, the leader of the largest party, with building a coalition.