Despite polls leading up to the election showing his party trailing the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats in parliamentary elections, winning an expected 30 seats.
Exit polls released after polls closed on Tuesday night showed Likud and the center-left Zionist Union alliance winning around 27 seats each. After the votes were counted, it became clear that Netanyahu ended up with a bigger margin than expected. Winning a fourth term would make Netanyahu the longest serving Israeli Prime Minster, a title currently held by David Ben-Gurion.
Results show the Zionist-Union alliance, led by Issac Herzog, receiving 24 seats. Turnout in the election was the highest since 2009 with 71.8 percent of the electorate turning out to vote. The Joint Arab List, an alliance of Israeli Arab-dominated parties, came in third with 14 seats, though it is not expected to join any coalition.
As no party has ever one a majority in parliamentary elections, the party in the best position to form a new government will be tasked by the Israeli President to put together a coalition. Netanyahu is expected to garner the 61 seats needed in the 120 Knesset to form a new government, a task that could yet take several weeks.
Herzog said on Wednesday he would not join any coalition with Netanyahu and would remain in the opposition. “The opposition is the only realistic option,” he said.
The outcome capped off a dramatic finish to the election that many, including several polls, expected Netanyahu to lose.
Before the results became clear, Netanyahu declared victory. “Against all odds, we achieved a great victory for the Likud,” Netanyahu said. “I am proud of the people of Israel, who in the moment of truth knew how to distinguish between what is important and what is peripheral, and to insist on what is important.”
Netanyahu made a hard right in the final days leading up to the election, vowing now to allow the creation of a Palestinian state if here were elected.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Palestinians would continue its efforts in establishing a state.
“It is clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government, so we say clearly that we will go to the International Criminal Court in the Hague and we will speed up, pursue and intensify” diplomatic efforts, he said.
Despite the election pledge from Netanyahu, Washington said it would continue its policy of pushing for a two-state solution. The White House said it was also concerned about the rhetoric from Netanyahu leading up to the election, in particular against Arab-Israeli voters.
“The United States and this administration is deeply concerned about rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
Despite the tension, Secretary of State John Kerry called Netanyahu to congratulate him on the election.