Netanyahu called his projected victory an "immense feat, almost inconceivable," saying he and Likud have been "faced with biased media", including a flood of reports in recent weeks about his potential indictment on three separate criminal investigations involving bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu dismissed the claims, and if exit polling is anything to go by, so did many voters.
In a speech before supporters on Tuesday night, Netanyahu vowed that Israeli's new government "will be a right-wing government, but I will be prime minister for all."
No Majority, No Problem?
Likud increased its plurality in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, with 26.28 per cent of the total vote, giving it an estimated five more seats than it got in the 2015 election, with Haaretz calling the result a big win for the party, and a virtual guarantee of senior cabinet posts if Netanyahu fulfils his promise to put together a coalition.
Israel's electoral system has a 3.25 per cent election threshold, which usually translates into four seats in the Knesset (although there have been exceptions of parties achieving this barrier and ending up with only three seats).
According to preliminary results posted on Israel's Central Elections Committee website, 11, or possibly 12, of the whopping 40 parties which participated in the vote will enter the Knesset.
These include Likud with 35 seats, Blue & White with 35 seats, Shas and United Torah Judaism (two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties) with 8 projected seats apiece, the far left Hadash-Ta'al joint list (6 seats), Labor (6 seats), Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing nationalist party led by former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, with 5 seats, United Right (an alliance of several right-wing Zionist parties), with 5 seats. Furthermore, Meretz, a social democratic and green party, won 4 seats, while the centrist Kulanu Party secured 4 seats. The United Arab List-Balad ticket also secured 4 seats, while the New Right, another conservative nationalist Zionist party, may not make it into the Knesset with its projected 3.14 per cent of the vote at last count.
Given these results, if Netanyahu fulfils his promise in forming a united right and religious party coalition, he could very well get put together a government with support from the Shas, United Torah Judaism, Yisrael Beiteinu, and United Right, whose total projected seats add up to 61, enough for a majority. Negotiations with the centrist Kulanu Party, and a last-minute surge for the New Right could make this majority even larger.
One other possibility, according to some observers, is a big coalition involving both Likud and Blue and White.
The big losers of this election appear to be the left parties, including Labor, which is projected to lose 13 seats, Meretz, projected to lose one, and the United Arab List-Balad, which shaved 3 seats off its Knesset presence.
According to Haaretz contributor Chaim Levinson, Benny Gantz and the Blue and White Party are also "among the losers," notwithstanding their impressive showing of projected 35 seats.
"The only way he can go from here is down," the journalist noted, adding that "Gantz may face four very long years in opposition, with a party that he probably does not completely control."
Two Side Factors
As for the corruption case, it "could weaken [Netanyahu's] hand in negotiations with potential coalition partners, who may condition their support, should he be indicted, on Netanyahu meeting their demands for cabinet posts and policy concessions," Lubell explained.
The election commission will release its final results by Friday. As Israeli law dictates, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will then consult with the leaders of each party regarding whom they would prefer to see as prime minister, with the president then tasked with choosing the candidate with the best perceived chance of forming a coalition government. The nominee will then have as many as 42 days to form a government, although this usually happens more quickly.