Netanyahu declares ‘great victory’ but Herzog insists ‘everything is open’

Likud and Zionist Union both in line for 27 seats in Israeli election

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu last night claimed a "great victory" in the Israeli general election, as exit polls pointed to a dead heat between his party and the main centre- left camp.

Two exit polls predicted that his right-wing Likud party and the Zionist Union, led by Labour's Yitzhak Herzog, would each end up with 27 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Another poll put Likud one seat ahead on 28.

Mr Herzog told supporters in Tel Aviv: “This result allows us to return to power. We will wait for the real results – everything is open.”

He said he would “make every effort to form a real socially minded government for Israel” and said he had already spoken to some party leaders about putting together a coalition.


Arab list

Exit polls predicted that the Arab Joint List would be the third largest grouping, with 13 seats, followed by the centrist Yesh Atid (11), led by former finance minister

Yair Lapid

, and the centrist Kulanu (10), led by former Likud minister

Moshe Kahlon


The far-right Jewish Home party looked set to be the big loser of the night, dropping from 12 to eight seats, while the left-wing Meretz was in line for five. Two ultra-Orthodox parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, were expected to take seven seats each. Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu was due to win five.

Once the vote-counting is completed in a few days, President Reuven Rivlin will consult party leaders to hear who they recommend as the next prime minister.

If Mr Rivlin believes neither leader has a realistic chance of forming a stable coalition of more than 60 seats – a realistic prospect based on the exit poll results – he is likely to recommend a national unity government that includes both the Zionist Union and Likud.

Religious parties

The right-wing and religious parties are likely to endorse Mr Netanyahu. Mr Herzog can rely only on the backing of Meretz and possibly the Arab Joint List, who are likely to remain outside the government.

The two centrist parties, Yesh Atid and Kulanu, can make or break a potential coalition. Yesh Atid prefer Mr Herzog: Kulanu’s Kahlon has already been offered the finance ministry by Mr Netanyahu.

Mr Herzog enjoys cordial relations with all the party leaders, whereas Mr Netanyahu’s abrasive style has made enemies of many of the politicians he must now persuade to join a coalition. – (Additional reporting: Reuters)

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem