Polling suggests the race for prime minister will be tight, as Benjamin Netanyahu runs against Benny Gantz
We will now bring to a close our coverage of the Israeli election, with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly deep in talks with ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties to form a coalition. Thanks for reading.
My colleague Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem has this explainer on yesterday’s election:
The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is the second world leader to congratulate Netanyahu, in both English and Hebrew.
My dear friend Bibi, Congratulations! You are a great friend of India, and I look forward to continuing to work with you to take our bilateral partnership to new heights. @netanyahu
The Times of Israel is reporting that voting results in several Israeli settlements show more ballots were submitted than eligible voters, with the Union of Right-Wing Parties profiting from the apparent irregularities.
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurtz is the first world leader to congratulate Benjamin Netanyahu, although all votes have not yet been counted.
I am looking forward to working with you in the future, for the benefit of the people of Israel and the people of Austria.
Likud Knesset member Miki Zohar has appeared to launch a campaign to exonerate prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the allegations facing him in three corruption cases, the Times of Israel reported.
“The people decided that the cases [against Netanyahu] aren’t criminal in nature,” Zohar said in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster on Wednesday morning.
An aide to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas says the outcome of the election boosts the “extreme right-wing camp” in Israeli politics and raises Palestinian fears over the annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank.
In the final stretch of the campaign, Netanyahu pledged to annex vast swaths of the occupied West Bank and create further Israeli settlements, a move that would erode remaining hopes for Palestinian statehood.
Benny Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White alliance, has tweeted:
Good morning, fellas. Yes, Good morning! The reports tell their unfinished story. While there are dark skies, but there are no two things:
1) There is nothing final about them, because there may be electoral movements and we may be able to develop such political moves or others.
A Palestine Liberation Organization representative says Israelis have chosen racism and permanent conflict by voting for candidates that are “unequivocally committed” to a “status quo of oppression”.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, said:
Israeli voters have chosen their representatives. Regrettably, Israelis overwhelmingly voted for candidates that are unequivocally committed to entrenching the status quo of oppression, occupation, annexation and dispossession in Palestine and escalating the assault on Palestinian national and human rights. They have chosen an overwhelmingly rightwing, Xenophobic and anti-Palestinian parliament to represent them. Israelis chose to entrench and expand apartheid.
The extremist and militaristic agenda, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, has been emboldened by the Trump administration’s reckless policies and blind support. This cynical alliance against Palestinian rights and the standing of the rules-based international order remains unchallenged by the rest of the international community, thereby reinforcing the rightist and populist agendas.
This is Mattha Busby taking over from Kate Lyons.
Haaretz are reporting that Benny Gantz has written to party members to say although its “looking bleak”, the possibility of “electoral shifts” remains.
Our correspondent, Oliver Holmes, has this wrap of the night’s results.
It appears that Arab parties have lost three seats in the Knesset in this election, after calls within the Arab community, which makes up almost a fifth of Israel’s population, to boycott the election.
Likud was censured on Tuesday for sending monitors with body-cameras to polling stations with Arab constituents, which Arab politicians condemned as voter intimidation. A Likud party official defended the move, saying the cameras were deployed to ensure there would be no vote rigging.
The Times of Israel has reported that the two main contenders for prime minister are on track to win each other’s home seats.
With the election results so close, the Associated Press reports that the country now faces what could be weeks of political negotiations over the composition of a ruling coalition.
The Central Election Committee is now counting the final 3% of votes, belonging to soldiers on bases and diplomats overseas. The votes of soldiers usually skew to the right. The counting is expected to be completed by Wednesday afternoon, according to the Times of Israel.
If Netanyahu is able to secure a victory, as many Israeli media outlets are predicting he will, this summer he will become Israel’s longest-ever serving leader. Re-election would also give him an important boost as he braces for the likelihood of criminal charges in a series of corruption scandals.
A Netanyahu victory would confirm Israel’s continued tilt to the right and further dim hopes of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Our correspondent Oliver Holmes offers some context about why some news outlets are claiming victory for Benjamin Netanyahu when the vote between him and Gantz is so close. He writes:
It’s a bit confusing but because of Israel’s coalition government system, the key seats have been the ones that have not gone to either Netanyahu or Gantz.
The two main parties may have a similar number of seats in the Knesset but Netanyahu’s right-wing allies appear to have enough for him to make a majority government with them.
The Times of Israel reports that with 97% of votes counted, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party still appear on track to get 35 seats each, but that “Netanyahu has a clear path to forming a right-wing government”.
The newspaper also reports that Arab party Ra’am Ra’am-Balad is at 3.45%, putting it past the 3.25% threshold required to enter the Knesset.
Channel 12 are reporting that with 96% of the votes counted, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud has won 37 of Knesset seats, against 36 for centrist Blue and White, headed by Netanyahu’s rival, former general Benny Gantz.
Partial results with 95% of votes counted showed Netanyahu’s Likud party tied with Gantz’s centrist Blue and White Party with 35 parliamentary seats each, the Knesset website and Israeli Channel 12 said.
Though neither party captured a ruling majority in the 120-member Knesset, the partial results put Netanyahu in a strong position to form a coalition government with right-wing factions, key to an ultimate victory.
Oliver Holmes also visited Efrat on election day.
Efrat is a large settlement in the occupied West Bank, whose residents include Jews who have emigrated, including from the US and the UK. At a polling station in Efrat’s school, many people spoke English rather than Hebrew.
As we wait for results to come through, a look back at the day’s voting. Oliver Holmes, was in Sanhedria, Jerusalem during the day and has this dispatch.
In Sanhedria, a religious neighbourhood of Jerusalem, television screens in the streets showed the image of Aryeh Deri, a politician and founder of the ultra-Orthodox party, Shas.
Partial results with 80% of votes counted showed Netanyahu’s Likud with 38 seats, 8 more than in the previous election in 2015, and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White Party with 36, the Knesset website and Israeli TV channels said several hours after polls closed.
Exit polls on two of Israel’s three main TV channels earlier showed Likud several seats ahead while a third survey put Blue and White one seat ahead of Likud.
Haaretz newspaper reports that partial Israeli election results show prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud winning 38 seats versus 35 for rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.
Two updated exit polls from Israeli television channels also put Netanyahu on a clearer path to victory on Wednesday in Israel’s general election, suggesting he will win one seat more than Blue and White.
תודה ♥️ pic.twitter.com/nucHw9ng0R
Benjamin Netanyahu has delivered a speech to supporters at the Likud election party, flanked by his wife Sara. The speech was frequently interrupted by cheers, chants of “Sara!” and boos when Netanyahu talked about the media.
I am very moved this night. This is a night of tremendous victory. Tremendous! God bless for keeping us and maintaining us to reach this time [a Jewish prayer, Shehechiyanu]. I don’t say that as lip service. I say that from the depth of my heart. Because a great sense of mission guides us. A great sense of mission guides me. I act day and night in your name, on your behalf, on behalf of our country, on behalf of our people, on behalf of our land!
I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart. You brought us an achievement beyond imagination, a stupendous achievement, almost incomprehensible. You brought an enormous achievement, incomprehensible, despite a hostile media under impossible conditions, and the Likud grew dramatically. This is a stunning achievement.
Likud Party have posted this video of Netanyahu and his wife arriving at the Likud election party and addressing supporters. We’ll have a translation of his speech soon.
ניצחון ענק לימין בהובלת הליכוד! https://t.co/U8BSnqGV0k
According to Kan Television News, after 40% of the ballots have been counted the results stand at:
Likud (Netanyahu): 40
Netanyahu and his wife Sara have arrived on stage. However, as our correspondent Oliver Holmes’ photograph shows, the room is not quite as full as the organisers probably hoped.
I have arrived at the Likud election night event, which is also in Tel Aviv and walking distance from Blue and White’s event.
Reuters have this explainer about voting in the election and when we should expect to see results:
Benny Gantz has given a speech to supporters in which he calls today “an historic day” and claims victory for his Blue and White party. Both Gantz and Netanyahu have declared victory in the contest, and exit polls have them neck and neck.
Friends, a great light is shining on our Israel. This is an historic day. More than a million people voted today for Blue and White. Our people and our society chose [or voted for] to connect, chose to unite, chose to flee from division. You chose me, you chose my partners, you chose a team, you chose cooperation. I am very pleased with that attitude, which shows that things can be brought together. That isn’t something that cannot be done.
We want to thank Binyamin Netanyahu for his service on behalf of the country. To say that despite the disagreements between us, we will rise above the resentments and anger that have built up, because we will now respect the voters’ will, just as he said: the largest party is the one that needs to receive the mandate from the president [to form the next government]. In elections there are losers; in elections there are winners; and we are the ones who won. We might be new, but we aren’t clueless. We understand that we will wait for the real results, which will gradually develop in our favor as well, and we will work in the next few days on what is necessary so as to form as broad a government as possible.
This is Kate Lyons taking over from Adam Gabbatt.
The front page of leading Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth today reflects the close nature of the results and the uncertainty about who will emerge from today’s vote as the country’s leader.
At the Blue and White election event, spoke to a member of his party, Michael Biton, who will almost certainly get a seat in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, said Israel has voted to “maintain the status quo”.
What the exit polls suggest is that Israelis have voted to preserve the status quo, they have said no to peace and yes to the occupation,” Erekat said:
The fact that so far only 18 out of 120 elected members of the Israeli parliament support the two state solution on the 1967 border is a consequence of the culture of impunity granted to Israel.
Now the international community has no excuse. Refusal to hold Israel accountable means complicity with perpetual occupation and apartheid.
I just arrived at Benny Gantz’s election night party in Tel Aviv.
It’s just after midnight here and there’s a buoyant atmosphere, with supporters chanting and waving Israeli flags – among them a gay pride rainbow flag.
As the polls were closing in Israel, US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo was being questioned in the Senate on US policy on any unilateral Israeli annexation of the West Bank.
Pompeo refused to give a definitive answer, referring to the long-delayed US peace plan, still apparently being worked on by Jared Kushner and special envoy, Jason Greenblatt.
•Exit polls show Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz neck and neck in Israel’s parliamentary election. A series of the polls – which can be unreliable – showed the pair tied, or Gantz with a narrow lead.
•Both Netanyahu and Gantz swiftly declared victory. But in reality neither Netanyahu’s Likud party nor Gantz’s Blue and White will know the results for several hours.
This is from the Daily Telegraph’s middle east correspondent:
The exit polls are showing that when Israel’s president asks party leaders who should be PM, Netanyahu is likely to have more support.
But if Gantz has clearly won the most seats, the president may feel Gantz has the real mandate to form the government.
As we wait for the results to roll in, let’s remember that one of Netanyahu’s most powerful messages to his supporters this election has been the anti-Palestinian concessions he managed to get from Donald Trump.
During his term, Trump has ticked off a series of measures previously demanded by the right wing in Israel but that no previous US leader has agreed to.
Here’s a nice summary from the Associated Press:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger, former military chief Benny Gantz, were locked in a neck and neck race Tuesday as exit polls showed no clear winner in an election that was seen as a referendum on the long-serving leader.
With final results hours away, the early indications were that Netanyahu suffered a setback by failing to score a decisive victory. The 69-year-old prime minister’s fate is clouded by a series of corruption investigations.
Benjamin Netanyahu is also claiming victory. (Like Gantz, Netanyahu does not actually know if he has won):
“The right-wing bloc, led by the Likud, won a clear victory,” he said on Twitter. (Translation by Oliver Holmes):
גוש הימין בהובלת הליכוד ניצח ניצחון מובהק. אני מודה לאזרחי ישראל על האמון. אתחיל בהרכבת ממשלה ימנית עם שותפינו הטבעיים כבר הלילה
Scorecard of Israeli TV exit polls: Wide disparities, but right-wing bloc seems to have an edge. So either Gantz builds a super-right coalition or Bibi does…. let’s see what the official results show, a seat here or there can change picture #IsraElex19 https://t.co/TGTUR0Ap1R
Huge disparities among the three Israeli exit polls. One TV channel has Gantz ahead of Netanyahu by four seats …. looks like a long night of counting ahead #IsraelElections2019
Benny Gantz and his running mate, Yair Lapid, have put out a joint statement claiming to have “won”:
We won! The Israeli public has had their say! Thank you to the thousands of activists and over a million voters. These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser. Netanyahu promised 40 seats and lost. The president can see the picture and should call on the winner to form the next government. There is no other option!
Exit polls are coming thick and fast from a number of Israeli TV channels:
•Channel 13: Gantz (36) Netanyahu (36)
Channels 12 and Kan TV gave the Blue and White party, headed by former military chief Benny Gantz, a narrow lead over the Likud, while Channel 10 TV showed them in a tie in Tuesday’s vote.
The channels also gave different breakdowns for possible coalitions, with two stations giving Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc a slight parliamentary majority while Channel 12 had them tied at 60 seats apiece.
An exit poll by Channel 13, released just after polls closed in Israel, shows Netanyahu and Gantz deadlocked, both with 36 seats, Oliver Holmes reports.
Our man in Israel, Oliver Holmes, sends this from Katamonim, in Jerusalem – a neighborhood where there is a mix of Israelis, some secular and some religious.
Moshe Tzvi, 22, studied at a religious seminary but had set up a stall outside a polling station to hand out fliers for the United Right, an alliance of far-right parties. The group has been internationally condemned for its inclusion of Jewish Power, an anti-Arab, pro-settlement party.
One of its candidates said “disloyal” Arabs should be expelled. Tzvi supported that idea. “My personal belief is that people who are not loyal to the country, they should go out,” he said.
Peace with the Palestinians used to be the primary issue in Israeli elections. But it has not featured prominently on the campaign trail.
Observers point to various reasons for this. Some say Israelis have lost hope following failed peace efforts, while others argue the occupation has become so tightly managed that its is effectively out of sight and out of mind, meaning voters do not consider it an issue. Some point to a lack of international pressure.
All eyes are on Benny Gantz today, as the leader of the Blue and White part bids to oust Benjamin Netanyahu. Gantz, 59, is the former head of the Israel Defense Forces, and was barely known until a few months ago.
Since then, he has become the unlikely rallying figure for Israel’s left-wing – an alliance mostly based around a joint desire to remove Netanyahu from office.
He has focused on how members of Netanyahu’s cabinet have battered state institutions. The culture minister, Miri Regev, has tried to cut funding to groups considered not “loyal” to Israel, while the justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, pushed to weaken the Israeli judiciary, which she sees as a barrier to a hard-right agenda.
[Gantz’s] campaign promises, handed out on blue fliers, read like a series of digs at Netanyahu: “We will fight corruption … we will defend the country’s institutions, including its justice and legal systems.”
So what’s at stake today?
More than anything, the election is viewed as a referendum on Netanyahu and where he has taken Israel since he first rose to high office in 1996. Supporters of “King Bibi”, as he is known, claim Israelis have never been safer while enjoying a booming economy.
•Israelis are voting today in an election that could extend, or end, Benjamin Netanyahu’s 10-year uninterrupted spell as prime minister. The vote is seen as a referendum on the tenure of Netanyahu and his Likud party, and polling suggests it will be close.
•Benny Gantz, a former army chief and leader of the centrist Blue and White party, is Netanyahu’s main rival. Gantz, a political novice, has played up his “clean” image compared to Netanyahu, who is under investigation for allegedly receiving gifts in return for political favors and other potential corruption-related crimes.