JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and challenger Isaac Herzog claimed victory in Israel’s national elections.
Exit polling on Tuesday found Netanyahu’s Likud and Herzog’s Zionist Union parties tied with 27 seats each.
After the results were broadcast, Netanyahu tweeted, “Against all odds a great victory for the Likud. A major victory for the people of Israel!”
Speaking at his Jerusalem campaign headquarters, he said, “I spoke with all party leaders in the nationalist camp and called on them to join me and form a government without delay,” casting doubt on the formation of a national unity government. As he spoke, supporters shouted, “We don’t want unity.”
Herzog, who held a slight lead in the polls in the days leading up to the election, was not conceding defeat.
“The Likud is mistaken — the right wing bloc has shrunk,” Zionist Union said in a statement. “Everything is still open until the release of the final results. Only then will we be able to know which parties actually passed the threshold and we’ll know what government can be formed.”
Herzog and Tzipi Livni, the former justice minister and the party’s co-chair, met after the results were released to address supporters.
“I intend to make every effort to put together a socially conscious government for Israel, a good government, a government that returns Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state, a socially aware country that strives for peace with our neighbors,” Herzog said at his campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv. “I call on all the relevant factions to unite behind me for a government of reconciliation for Israel.”
He called on his supporters to “go to sleep,” since no decisions will be made overnight.
Livni said the party would make every effort to form a government headed by Herzog, a day after she agreed to step aside from a rotating premiership if it would make it easier to form a government coalition.
Yair Lapid, head of the center-left Yesh Atid party, which polled at 11 seats, told supporters on Tuesday night that “we are here to stay.”
“Yesh Atid is a force that can no longer be ignored in Israeli politics,” Lapid said. “We’ll continue to present a real vision for the country, a vision of an exemplary society whose Judaism is embracing and not divisive, whose economy works for the middle class and the middle class works for the weaker segments in society.”
Polls showed the Jewish Home party with eight seats; it had 12 in the last Knesset.
“I was asked if I’m disappointed in our public, in the national-religious public,” party leader Naftali Bennett said in an address to supporters. “And I tell you, the opposite. I’m proud of religious Zionism because it’s a truly ideological community.”
The head of the newly established Kulanu party, former Likud lawmaker Moshe Kahlon, told supporters on Tuesday night that he will join the coalition of the candidate that chooses a social agenda. Kahlon said he would wait for the final vote counts before speaking to Netanyahu and Herzog, who have both already initiated talks. Kulanu in exit polls had nine seats.
Zehava Galon, whose left-wing Meretz party garnered five seats, according to exit polls, called on Herzog to resist the temptation to form a national unity government, saying it would lend “legitimacy” to Netanyahu and his policies.
Avigdor Liberman, whose Yisrael Beiteinu Party garnered five seats, down from the 15 it held after the 2009 elections, praised his party for surviving the campaign despite being met with “an attempted assassination of an entire political party by forces from outside the political system, from the media. Many forces tried to destroy an entire party but failed.”
Dozens of Yisrael Beiteinu officials were targeted in a corruption investigation in December.