Just two hours before presenting his exit poll as the vote wrapped up in Israel’s elections, Channel 13 pollster Kamil Fuchs said he had “never seen such dramatic and decisive results.”
Dramatic, perhaps they were. Decisive, they were not. After two years of turmoil and paralysis, after the fourth election in two years, they have not shown a smooth and clear-cut path out of Israel’s political crisis.
Released at the stroke of 10 p.m., the Fuchs exit poll, along with the exit polls presented by rival channels 11 and 12, did the extraordinary feat of unanimously predicting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be in. able to retain power, by mustering the narrowest possible majority – 61 of the 120 Knesset seats – provided he is able to woo Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party into his coalition.
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Unlike the endless polls in the lead-up to Election Day, exit polls on TV are usually pretty accurate – give or take a seat or two here or there. And there is the catch. A seat or two moving here or there could change everything.
And it turned out: Less than three hours after the 10 p.m. polls, Fuchs had changed his findings and now showed a 60-60 stalemate between the pro and anti-Netanyahu camps, while Channel 12 had the anti-Netanyahu camp front, 61-59. Other changes seemed certain as the actual votes began to be counted – a process that could take hours, or even, whisper, days.
Based on exit polls, Netanyahu’s Likud has done quite well, dropping from 36 seats in last year’s election to 30-33 – although it had to rise to the challenge addition of his own former Likud cabinet colleague, Gideon Saar, who broke up. to organize the New Hope evening. New Hope appears to have been one of the biggest losers on election day, heading to just five or six seats as he voted twice earlier this month. Bennett’s Yamina also won, at 7-8 seats – after being relentlessly targeted by Netanyahu in the final days of the campaign.
Netanyahu’s reliable allies – the ultra-Orthodox Shas and Unified Torah Judaism, and the New Alliance of Religious Zionism – have, however, far outperformed pre-election polls, pulling together 22 to 23 seats. If these results hold true, one of the very big winners in these elections is far-right religious Zionism, which includes the Otzma Yehudit party, led by Itamar Ben Gvir, a supporter of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane. All three polls showed religious Zionism winning 6-7 seats, which would mean a place in the Knesset not only for Ben Gvir, but also for Avi Maoz, the avowed anti-LGBT representative of the extremist movement Noam.
Netanyahu negotiated the alliance of religious Zionism, clearing the way for Otzma Yehudit to parliament, but then said he would not include its members in his government. If the final results give him a path to re-election that depends on Ben Gvir, he may not have a choice.
Ben Gvir has indicated that he will seek a ministerial post; at the head of a party of six or seven, he could ask the Justice Department from there to push forward the legislation he has already promised aimed at ending Netanyahu’s corruption trial, and to attempt a radical “reform” of the Israeli judicial system.
Exit polls also show successes in the anti-Netanyahu camp, with Blue and White, Labor and Meretz surpassing all the most recent polls.
Yair Lapid’s main opposition party, Yesh Atid, appears to have performed somewhat worse than expected, with 17-18 seats – in part because he did not try to deflect Labor votes and of Meretz. And the conservative Islamic Raam party has been seen below the threshold in all three exit polls, its separation from the Joint List seemingly unsuccessful.
Depending on the end results, Netanyahu may try to hijack one or three defectors from rival parties. But other party leaders can also try to galvanize all kinds of other coalitions; No sooner had Channel 12 put the anti-Netanyahu camp in front than Lapid pledged to try to build a “sane government.”
Clinging to power by his fingernails after decisively failing to win three elections in 2019 and 2020, Netanyahu will know his world-beating vaccination campaign was central to his and Likud’s performance this time around, although it may not have provided a decisive victory: The elections came on a day when the number of severe COVID-19 cases in Israel fell below 500 for the first time in three months, and with new daily COVID-19 cases now below 1,000.
When the 10 p.m. exit polls were released, Netanyahu hailed “a huge victory for the right and Likud under my leadership.” But Netanyahu also knew that patience was always in order. He hopes the numbers will evolve further to his advantage. His rivals hope the final tally will prove that the three 10 p.m. polls were broadly valid.