TEL AVIV, Israel — Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party narrowly won the Israeli election Tuesday, with 97% of the ballots counted as of Wednesday morning.
His rival, former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff Benny Gantz, led the opposition Blue and White party to a strong showing. Both parties will receive 35 seats (out of 120) in the next Knesset (parliament). However, Likud won by less than 1% — roughly a few thousand votes — with little left to count.
Moreover, the bloc of right-wing and religious Jewish parties is much larger than the bloc of left-wing and Arab parties, with the right projected to win 65 seats and the left projected to win only 55. That means Netanyahu is very likely to form the next government, after consultation with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who will meet with each of the elected parties’ leaders to ask them formally to submit their recommendation as to who should be prime minister.
The Times of Israel described what it called Netanyahu’s “easy path” to an unprecedented fifth term, as Likud won more seats than it had in any election since 2003, and the most under Netanyahu’s leadership. The New York Times had prematurely declared the result a “setback” for Netanyahu when exit polls showed Blue and White leading Likud by as much as four seats. One exit poll even showed a 60-60 deadlock between left and right in the 120-seat Knesset.
Those exit polls reportedly led to jubilation at Blue and White headquarters, and solemnity at the Likud victory party. They also led Gantz to declare victory and to refer himself as the next prime minister. But — in a scenario familiar to Americans — as actual votes were counted, rather than exit polls, the tally looked increasingly favorable to Likud and to Netanyahu. The remaining votes to be counted include solders’ ballots, which tend historically to skew to the right.
The result will likely be disappointing to the American left (including much of the mainstream media), which had been rooting for Netanyahu to be unseated, as the Times report suggests. Netanyahu has a close relationship with President Donald Trump, which he touted during his re-election campaign — and which has made him even more of a target for Democrats than he was when he has an infamously frosty relationship with Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.