Election liveblog: There are some surprises
The biggest one is Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, which according to the first surveys released after the polls closed has 18 or 19 mandates. The second one is that the combined Likud - Beiteinu has only 31 according to all three network polls. And the third one is that Jewish Home has only 12-13.
UPDATE 10:22 PM
Labor has 17 mandates according to all three polls. Livni got either 6 or 7, so the three 'Center-Left' parties total 41-42 mandates - much more than Likud (I warned about that, didn't I?).
United Torah Judaism has 6, Shas has 11, 12 or 13, depending which poll you ask. Meretz has 6-7. The three Arab parties (Hadash, Balad and Ram Tal) combine for 8-11 mandates.
Am Shalem (Amsalem) is out. So is Kadima. Otzma l'Yisrael (Ben Ari and Eldad) are out according to two of the three polls.
UPDATE 10:29 PM
If these numbers hold up, Netanyahu could make a coalition with Jewish Home and the Haredim (31+(12 or 13) + 6+ (11, 12 or 13). That makes 60-62. But will he? Or will he make a coalition with Labor, Lapid
UPDATE 10:38 PM
I should add that I am liveblogging from The Israel Project's media center in Tel Aviv.
The big question in my mind now is to what extent the Likud's Knesset list will be able to prevent Netanyahu from forming the 'easy' coalition I mentioned in the previous update. Netanyahu is one of only two MK's in the Likud's top 30 who has come out in favor of a 'Palestinian state.' The MK's below him on the list may push hard for the narrow coalition with the religious parties, but the 'international community' will undoubtedly push hard for a more 'moderate' coalition.
UPDATE 10:45 PM
Interviewing Ayelet Shaked, number 4 on Jewish Home list. Says she's pleased with her party's 'great achievement.' Claims that Likud campaign cost them mandates. She won't speculate as to who will form or be in the next government.
Sorry but a lot of people expected a lot more from Jewish Home, and that has to be a disappointment.
UPDATE 10:51 PM
They're now interviewing Meir Shetrit, number 5 on the Livni list, who is pushing for Netanyahu to take all three Center-Left parties into the coalition. He thinks Livni will stay with her party despite her 'unflattering' showing.
One of the big TV screens is constantly showing the party at Shas' headquarters in Jerusalem. One has to wonder why. Despite Deri's return they got no more seats than the last time.
By the way, you'll all appreciate this: I'm sitting next to a correspondent from al-Jazeera, and I think that's Jodi Rudoren about three rows in front of me. I'm grouped in with the foreign media....
UPDATE 11:01 PM
Here's a chart with the percentage of people who voted in each Knesset election. Today's vote is the highest percentage since at least 1999. That helped the Left.
They just announced that the voting rate was 66.6% today.
UPDATE 11:09 PM
I'm already seeing speculation as to whether Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett can keep their parties together. Lapid is about to find out that running as a 'centrist' party is one thing, but voting as one in the Knesset is quite another.
Bennett may yet see his party fragment if he insists on going into a coalition with Lapid and Labor.
Yehuda Ben Meir speaking to the press now.
Ben Meir says that most of the exit polls are identical. Remember that they're exit polls, although the fact that they're nearly identical means they're probably right. There should be official results from 60-70 polling stations where polls were taken by 1:00 am (what you call key precincts in the US). There could be changes, but by 1:00 am we should pretty much know the final results, give or take one or two seats either way due to IDF vote. IDF vote was highest in last 15 years - over 85%. Most of them are 18-25 which is an age bracket that votes differently than others.UPDATE 11:34 PM
What coalition will we see? There was no shift to the Right - if anything a shift away from the Right. 3-5 seats less for the Right. Lapid could yet end up with 20 seats once the army vote is in. Bibi will be next PM anyway because there is no other alternative. Lapid is on record saying that he isn't a candidate for PM. So is Bennett. Livni and Yacimovitch don't have enough seats. Netanyahu will have a hard time forming a coalition. He cannot make a coalition only with his 'natural partners' (Bayit Yehudi, Shas and UTJ). He will work for a wider coalition and that means Lapid. Lapid cuts across the blocks. Lapid says he will join coalition but has his conditions. Believes Likud, Lapid and Bayit Yehudi and maybe Livni.
Ben Meir says Lapid will be major player but his campaign did not focus on foreign policy so we don't really know how Lapid will impact foreign policy. Ben Meir thinks Lapid will move Netanyahu to the Center but not too far.
Ben Meir says Likud and Beiteinu will not split. At 31 seats they split into 20-11.
Ben Meir says (in response to me) that the people further down the Likud list will not prevent him from making a coalition with Center-Left parties because they have no choice if they want to stay in power. If the Right had 65-66 seats it would be different but they don't.
In any coalition Netanyahu makes, he is unlikely to even have a majority in the coalition. That's a difficult position. In Rabin and Begin's times they each had over 40 seats in their own parties.
I have a couple of analyses of the results for you. This is from Gil Hoffman in the JPost.
The results of the race, at least, according to the exit polls, indicate that Netanyahu was wrong on all counts.
The deal with Liberman made sense at first. Netanyahu, who had never won the most seats in the Knesset in any election, wanted to make sure he would this time.
But had Netanyahu not made the deal, Yisrael Beytenu might have disintegrated following Liberman's indictment. The deal gave Yisrael Beytenu 15 slots that appeared realistic at the time and pushed back the slots reserved for Likud candidates from districts.
Those candidates from the party's backbenches are the Likud's backbone. They are the branch heads and political power-brokers who know how to bring out the voters, and once the Liberman deal was signed, their motivation was gone.
Netanyahu's attacks on Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett boomeranged as did the Likud's on the Bayit Yehudi's list. The strange Hebrew equivalent of the phrase “those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones” is “those with butter on their heads shouldn't go out in the sunshine.”
A look at the Likud-Beytenu's candidates who were considered on the cusp does not reveal any rock stars or anyone worth buttering up. Perhaps it would have been different had Bennie Begin gotten another 200 votes in the Likud primary and won the 32nd slot on the Likud Beytenu list, the last reserved for a reigning Likud MK.I don't think the Likud-Beiteinu deal ever made sense, and I think Netanyahu did it to try to offset his own image of his own party as being too far Right. It really made no sense.
Here's Barry Rubin.
The bottom line is, then, that those mainstream forces that aren’t supporting Netanyahu (I’ll explain this point in a moment) hold 43 seats, more than he does. But their inability to unite and different orientations prevent them from emerging as a bloc.
Israeli politics cannot be understood by analogy with those of other countries. Neither class and economic nor even peace process issues are fundamental in Israeli politics. At present, the critical issue is who will or won’t form a coalition with Netanyahu’s party. Many voted for Lapid with the idea that he would go into a government with Netanyahu and be a moderate influence pushing for more attention to improving domestic infrastructure.
The idea of Netanyahu as a rightist is outdated. It is precisely because he moved Likud to the center--albeit with a significant right-wing faction remaining--is the secret of his success in gaining two consecutive election victories. The failure of the peace process, the second intifada, the rise of Islamism, and the Palestinian abandonment of negotiations with Israel all have made his broad analysis of the situation acceptable to most Israelis. His opponents focus mainly on stressing dovish credentials rather than offering specific alternatives.
Attention now turns to the question of how Netanyahu can put together a coalition that will hold 61 seats, a majority needed to form a government. Netanyahu was disappointed at only getting 31 seats rather than up to 35 or so. He will have to give more to coalition partners but he can work with the results.
There are several possibilities. Netanyahu never wanted a right-wing government with Bennett. Even if he did, a combination with that party would only get him up to 43 and he would be hard-put to find partners who would join such a combination. In theory, pulling in the two religious parties would let him reach 61 but he knows that this is a situation that would both cause big international problems and create a situation in which he could be daily blackmailed by threats of his partners to walk out of the coalition.
A coalition with Lapid would be far more attractive and bring him quickly to 50 seats. The problem is that Lapid doesn’t mix with the religious parties, especially Shas. While his party is less explicitly anti-Haredi (what is usually, but wrongly, called Ultra-Orthodox”) than his late father's similar party he still wouldn’t be eager for such a combination.
Since the far left is clearly not a coalition partner and both Labor and Livni have said they would not go into a coalition with him, unless they change that decision, Netanyahu has a problem. The irony is that if Netanyahu would ever be forced to go with Bennett it was because Labor and Livni left him no alternative.
I suspect that both Labor and Livni would change their decisions... for a price. I don't believe Livni will end up in the coalition unless Netanyahu really wants her because I think she'll demand too high a price.The easiest way out would be to persuade Lapid—who is an unknown quantity—to sit with the religious parties.
But that Labor, Lapid, Livni attempt to hijack the Prime Ministership still might be possible... if only they had a candidate other than Livni for Prime Minister. Yacimovitch?
By the way, Barry's post is a work in progress so keep checking back here.
UPDATE 11:51 PM
Bennett now speaking on all the networks. He hasn't said anything I have not heard him say before.
UPDATE WEDNESDAY 12:03 AM
Yacimovitch (Labor) speaking on all three networks says she's going to try to block Netanyahu from forming a government.
UPDATE WEDNESDAY 12:14 AM
They're interviewing Limor Livnat by phone in the media room. She claims Likud Beiteinu will end up with 33-34 seats. I think that's wishful thinking.
When they asked her if she thought the merger with Yisrael Beiteinu hurt the Likud and answered 'oh no' there was a lot of snickering among the reporters....
UPDATE 12:33 AM
Both Lapid and Netanyahu speaking at the same time.
Lapid says how he remembers his father thinking about the weight of responsibility when he had 15 seats in the government.
Media center trying to let us hear both of them but it's impossible so they shut out Lapid.
Most of the reporters just left on the bus back to Jerusalem.
I drove here.
Lapid says that the citizens of Israel said no to hatred and sectarianism and extremism and anti-democracy.
Netanyahu says main principles: strong security - first and foremost keep Iran from getting the bomb. Second, economic responsibility. Third, responsibility v. the 'Palestinians.' Fourth, 'equal distribution of burden' (i.e. draft Haredim). Fifth, lower cost of living and cots of apartments.
Bibi sees lots of partners for this and says will form broad government. Thanks Lieberman, Saar, Erdan, the Likud and Beiteinu minister. Meanwhile, we're missing Lapid on the split screen (actually two out of three are only showing Netanyahu - that would be Channels 1 and 2).
Bibi tells everyone to go to sleep and walks away. Now Lieberman is going to speak. Lapid and Lieberman finished at the same time.
UPDATE 12:41 AM
Lieberman speaks VERY briefly. Saar is supposed to spake next. Feiglin is on the stage this time.
They're singing the Likud anthem. Mercifully, the press center killed the sound.
UPDATE 12:58 AM
In case any of you are still harboring hopes for a narrow Likud-Jewish Home-Shas-United Torah Judaism coalition (which would be 61 seats), consider this: Netanyahu's first call after the exit poll was announced was to Yair Lapid.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's first call after the release of the exit polls was to Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, Army Radio reported.Lapid, if he is anything like his father, is bad news for religious Jews. I have to wonder how any of the religious parties - or Jewish Home for that matter - will sit in a coalition with him.
According to the prime minister's Facebook page he told Lapid that: "We have an opportunity to do great things for the State of Israel. The election is behind us and now we can concentrate on working for all of the citizens of Israel.
UPDATE 1:16 AM
Here's some of what Ben Birnbaum wrote about tonight's election before it happened. This scenario is possible.
All four center-left parties have said that they would not join a right-wing government alone (Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich recently promised not to join a Netanyahu-led government under any circumstances, but that followed months of demurral). And were they to negotiate as a bloc with an "all-of-us-or-none-of-us" approach, Netanyahu would have no choice but to take all of them. The result would be a national-unity government consisting of Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Labor, former journalist Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”), former foreign minister Tzipi Livni's "The Movement," and Kadima (like Otzma L’Yisrael, the party seemed unlikely to cross the two-percent threshold needed to get Knesset seats just a few weeks ago, but is now expected to get in with two or three seats).
For Netanyahu, such a secular centrist government would have its advantages. It would enjoy broad public support, particularly were it able to rescind some of the privileges (such as exemption from military service) given to the ultra-Orthodox by previous Israeli governments. It would also appease the global community, particularly if Netanyahu restored the internationally popular Livni to the foreign ministry. And it would no doubt be personally satisfying for Netanyahu to exclude arch-nemesis Naftali Bennett (Bennett, who had a falling out with Netanyahu and his wife after a short stint as his bureau chief, joked a few days ago that he was in "terrorism course" with Sara Netanyahu).
But for obvious reasons, this arrangement would be a nightmare for Netanyahu. The government would be highly unstable, likely leading to early elections within two or three years. It would be less likely to rubber-stamp a unilateral attack on Iran. And it would also force Netanyahu beyond his comfort zone on the peace process--an issue he’s been perfectly comfortable to avoid.What could go wrong?
UPDATE 2:38 AM
I am home now and I have closed the Liveblog. The next two posts are elections-related, and I'm sure there will be more in the morning and over the course of the next days and weeks as we try to build a new governing coalition.
Please go to the homepage or click the links along the side to view the later posts.