Open thread: Israeli election results; Update: Exit poll shows surprise Likud lead; Update: Netanyahu declares victory

The polls close there at 4 p.m. ET. Here’s your thread for following results, which should be updated regularly at the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, the New York Times, the BBC, and, well, pretty much every other major western news outlet with a decent international section.

You should have a passing acquaintance with how the elections work if you read last night’s QOTD, but if not, our pal Jeff Dunetz has a nifty explainer up. There are 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset; Netanyahu’s Likud is projected to win somewhere around 22 seats as I write this, good for second place behind Isaac Herzog’s liberal Zionist Union, which is projected somewhere in the mid- to high 20s. The other 75 or so seats should split among a variety of smaller niche parties. Does that mean Herzog will be the new prime minister? Not quite: Even though his party will have a plurality of seats, there aren’t many smaller parties with whom he could form a coalition to gain a majority of 61 seats. Per one analysis (note the helpful graphic at the link), the center-left (which includes Zionist Union) could end up with just 43 seats versus 51 seats for the right (which includes Likud). Even if, as expected, the Arab parties join with Herzog, that’s still just 56 seats for the left. Can Herzog convince Israel’s Orthodox religious parties to join a coalition with secular leftists and the Arab parties?

If not, he may be stuck forming a government with, er, Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu. No one’s sure yet how that would work. Maybe the two men would split time as prime minister, one of them serving the next two years and then the other serving two years after that. Or maybe Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, will surprise everyone by asking Netanyahu, not Herzog, to form a government because the leader of the right-wing party with the most seats is the one best positioned to form a majority coalition in the Knesset. Probably not, though: His relationship with Netanyahu is famously poor. Rivlin said recently he’s going to try to get Netanyahu and Herzog to form a national unity government together, but who knows if they’ll agree. Everything depends on the relative strength of Zionist Union and Likud after tonight’s election.

Dunetz thinks it’ll all come down to the Koolanu party:

Koolanu which was partially formed by the left overs of the Kadima Party which was formed by Ariel Sharon (from Likud) when he was PM is considered center-right, however their issues are economic (which is the real issue in this campaign). Koolanu would partner with either party.  Koolanu currently polling at around ten seats will hold the balance.

The hopeful scenario in Netanyahu’s circle is that Koolanu Party leader Kahlon hasn’t abandoned his Likud roots, and after exacting a hefty price from Netanyahu (the finance and housing ministries for starters) he will recommend him to the president.

On the other hand Kahlon’s distrust of Netanyahu.

The more Zionist Union outperforms expectations, the better the chance that Rivlin will give Herzog first crack at forming a governing majority. If he can do it, that’s the end for Netanyahu and for nearly 15 years of right-wing dominance of Israeli politics. Netanyahu’s pulled out all the stops the last few days to goose turnout on the right, vowing that there’ll be no Palestinian state while he’s prime minister (a reversal from his position in 2009) and warning this morning that Arab-Israelis were voting in huge numbers to support Zionist Union and its Arab-party allies on the left. As I write this, per Haaretz, turnout among all voters across Israel is higher than it’s been for the past three elections dating back to 2006.

What happens to Iran policy if Herzog pulls it off and deposes Bibi, once the champagne corks have stopped popping in the White House? Also hard to say. Israeli opinion is solidly behind Netanyahu in regarding Iran as a dire threat; to signal that he’ll be tough on Iran too, Herzog named former IDF military intel chief (and participant in the attack on Saddam’s Osirak reactor) Amos Yadlin as his chief military advisor. When asked specifically about the looming U.S. deal with Iran, though, Herzog sounds … not like Netanyahu:

Here is what he told me in December, when I interviewed him at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum: “I trust the Obama administration to get a good deal.”

Herzog does not downplay the Iran matter, but nor does he cast it in apocalyptic terms, as Netanyahu does. “I agree that a nuclear Iran is extremely dangerous, and I believe that it must be prevented,” Herzog told The Washington Post recently. “No Israeli leader will accept a nuclear Iran. All options for me are still on the table,” including the military option. But when asked if a nuclear Iran posed an “existential threat,” he demurred: “It is a big threat. That’s enough.”

If Zionist Union beats expectations, we may see the first true left-wing Israeli government in the post-9/11 era. As of this morning, predictions markets were giving Netanyahu anywhere between a 48 and 55 percent chance of keeping his job, although he’ll be weakened by Zionist Union’s showing regardless. Here’s your thread to comment. While we wait for exit polls and first results, some gossip from Noah Pollak:

Update: Champagne corks still in place, back on ice at the White House:

Another exit poll has it tied at 27 seats apiece. Good news early for Israeli righties, either way.

Update: A little early for this, perhaps, but since Herzog was going to have trouble forming a coalition even with a four- or five-seat advantage over Likud, it’s a safe bet that parity with Likud means Netanyahu will end up forming the next government. Sorry, Barack:

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Jazz Shaw 5:01 PM on March 22, 2023