A victorious Netanyahu. (Miriam Alster/Flash90) A victorious PM Netanyahu. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Netanyahu declared victory as Israel’s uncontested political leader after a vicious elections campaign.

Isaac Herzog

Labor leader Isaac Herzog. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

After an exceptionally combative and acrimonious elections campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged victorious Tuesday night after winning 30 of the 120 Knesset seats, a large majority over the 24 seats received by his main rival, Labor party leader Isaac Herzog.

Election turnout was high, at 71.8 percent of the electorate, due to both the closeness of the race and high participation among Israeli-Arabs.

Exit polls showed that Netanyahu was tied with Herzog, but as the hours passed, it became clear that the polls did not reflect the real results, and that Netanyahu achieved a crushing victory.

Netanyahu declared victory at 1 AM in Tel Aviv. “Against all odds, we achieved a great victory for the Likud,” he said. “Now we have to form a strong and stable government that will ensure Israel’s security and welfare.” On Twitter, he added, “Against all odds: a great victory for the Likud, a major victory for the national camp led by the Likud, a major victory for the people of Israel.”

In general, the election results demonstrate Israelis’ deep concern with economic issues, and a general weakening of the far-right and religious parties. The (Arab) Joint List received 13 seats; Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, 11; Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, 10; Naftali Bennet’s Jewish Home, 8; Shas, 7; United Torah Judaism, 6; Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, 6; and Meretz, 4. Yachad, Eli Yishai’s breakaway party from Shas, did not meet the threshold to receive seats in the Knesset.

After the true results became apparent, Netanyahu contacted his prospective coalition partners, with hopes of forming a new government within the coming days.

Herzog, the Zionist Camp candidate for prime minister, said that he would attempt to form a coalition despite receiving 24 mandates to Likud’s 30. “I intend to make every effort to put together a true social-welfare-minded government for Israel… that will seek peace with our neighbors.”  At around 9 AM, he conceded defeat in a phone call to Netanyahu. “I wished him luck, but let it be clear, the problems are the same problems, nothing has changed,” he said.

Netanyahu made history these elections, as he can now become the longest serving prime minister in Israeli history, serving for 10 consecutive years as prime minister. He will eventually become the longest serving Member of Knesset (MK).

A victorious Netanyahu addressed his Likud party, and declared he is seeking to form a strong nationalist government.

“We have scored a major victory for the nationalist camp headed by Likud,” the prime minister said. “I am proud of the Israeli people because at the moment of truth they knew to differentiate between challenge and nonsense and they took up the challenge.”

Netanyahu declared that his government will contend with the challenges Israel faces, namely “genuine security and socioeconomic welfare.”

“We promised to take care of cost of living and rise of housing costs, and we will do it,” he vowed.

However, Israel is also facing a mounting terror threat on all its borders, an Iranian nuclear threat and diplomatic warfare and belligerence by the Palestinian Authority (PA), so Netanyahu and his new government may be preoccupied with more immediately pressing issues.

Israeli Public Partakes in Democratic Process

Israel’s public rallied to cast their vote, as 71.8% of the eligible 5,883,365 voters went to the 10,119 polling stations spread out across the country and cast their vote, showing the highest turnout rate since 1999.

Israel Arab vote

An Israeli-Arab casts her vote. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Only one percent of the votes have not been counted, many of them cast by IDF soldiers. Previous elections show that the right-wing parties usually gain seats from these votes, and so the final results may vary a bit.

Each elected party will go to President Reuven Rivlin and recommend one of the candidates they see fit to serve as prime minister. Netanyahu is expected to receive the majority of the recommendations.

Israel in now faced with a period of uncertainty, during which Netanyahu will negotiate with his likely coalition partners. Once a deal is reached with the parties, the new government will be formed and the various ministerial portfolios will be distributed according to the agreements.