TEL AVIV — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared victory here tonight as revised exit polls projected his clear path to forming a right-wing coalition and early official election results put Netanyahu’s Likud party ahead of his Blue and White rivals.
“I am very moved on this night,” stated Netanyahu, addressing supporters at a victory rally in Tel Aviv. “This is a night of an incredible, incredible victory.”
Netanyahu hailed a “fantastic achievement, an enormous achievement, which is almost unfathomable.”
Before most ballots were counted, Netanyahu called his party’s purported victory “almost unprecedented,” asking, “When did we receive so many seats? I don’t even remember.”
Netanyahu was seemingly referring to the updated exit polls from major Israeli television networks, with Israel’s Channel 12 and 13 both utilizing revised samples showing Netanyahu’s Likud with 35 seats and Blue and White, headed by Benny Gantz, with 34.
While that projected win may seem narrow, the exit polls also show Netanyahu easily forming a right-wing government with a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
About two hours after Netanyahu’s speech, the results of about 80% of the ballots counted showed his Likud party remaining the largest in Israel’s Knesset.
The Times of Israel reports on the latest official tallies:
Some 3.4 million votes are in, and holding 27% (931,000 ballots) Likud remains poised to be the largest party, according to official figures.
Blue and White follows with 25.9%. Shas is next (6%), followed by United Torah Judaism (5.4%), Labor (4.4%), Yisrael Beytenu (4.3%), Hadash-Ta’al (4.2%), Union of Right-Wing Parties, Meretz and Kulanu (3.6%, respectively).
Those numbers point to Likud potentially taking 38 seats or more to 36 for Blue and White.
The ongoing tallies are a dramatic departure from initial exit polls, with Channel 12 claiming 33 seats for the Likud to 37 seats for Blue and White; and Channel 13 putting the two rivals tied at 36.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, conceded that “We have a long night and a long day ahead of us waiting for the real results but I already thank you, citizens of Israel, Likud voters and activists.”
“Almost everyone already said publicly that they would recommend me to the president,” Netanyahu said, referring to declarations from numerous natural coalition partners that they are firmly in the Likud’s camp.
While a renewed premiership for Netanyahu is looking increasingly likely there are several steps that must take place before any victory becomes official.
The final vote tally may not come until sometime Thursday, when all ballots are counted including those placed by Israeli military personnel.
Also, Netanyahu will have to officially be tasked with forming a governing coalition by Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin. If Likud’s lead is maintained and the projected majority for the right-wing bloc becomes a reality then Rivlin’s tasking of Netanyahu becomes more ceremonial.
Netanyahu could also technically surprise voters and opt to form a unity coalition with Gantz’s Blue and White ahead of the rollout of President Trump’s Mideast peace plan the next few months.
Gantz’s path to victory does not seem likely based on the latest exit polls and vote tally data. Hours ago, when initial exit polls were more optimistic for Blue and White and before any vote counts were released, Gantz took to a so-called victory rally to declare himself the winner.
“We won! The Israeli public has had its say!” Gantz said in a joint statement with fellow party leader Yair Lapid.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.