Israel’s Netanyahu and rival Herzog tied in exit polls

Exit polls showed centrist newcomer Moshe Kahlon with enough seats to determine who will be the next PM

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Exit polls by Israel’s leading television channels showed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party drew even with Isaac Herzog's Zionist Union in the election on Tuesday, making the formation of the next government a serious challenge for both candidates.

Channel 10 and Channel 1 said Likud and the Zionist Union had secured 27 seats each in the 120-member Knesset, while Channel 2 said that Netanyahu had eked out a narrow victory, winning 28 seats to 27 for Herzog.

All polls showed the centrist newcomer Moshe Kahlon with enough seats to determine who will be the next prime minister. Kahlon, a Likud breakaway, has not said which side he would favor.

Final results are not expected until early on Wednesday morning.

Israel goes to the polls (Reuters)
Israel goes to the polls (Reuters)

Final fights

Dubbed “King Bibi” by Time magazine just three years ago, Netanyahu, 65, has cast the threat to his reign as a foreign-orchestrated campaign to install an Israeli leader who might yield to Palestinian statehood or nuclear diplomacy with Iran.

“This is a fateful and difficult campaign,” he said in a speech on Monday aimed at rallying religious-nationalist voters to his troubled Likud party. “We do not have the privilege of staying at home, because we will lose our home.”

Herzog, the head of Israel’s Labour party, and his running mate, ex-peace negotiator Tzipi Livni, have accused Netanyahu of using security scares to distract from social issues like the high cost of living emphasized in domestic debates.

“Netanyahu is in a great panic, whereas for Tzipi Livni and me what is foremost is the good of the country,” Herzog, 54, told Israeli television. “Tomorrow’s election is a choice between change and hope, and disappointment and downfall.”

Israel goes to the polls (Reuters)
Israel goes to the polls (Reuters)

No to Palestine

In what appeared to be a last-ditch pitch for far-right votes, Netanyahu on Monday said no Palestinian state would arise under his watch if he won a fourth term in top office.

He has so far served nine years, second in duration only to Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, who was premier for 12 years.

The United States has said it will “work with the winner of the election,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

As on the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu said he was motivated by the risk to Israel’s survival. However, one poll found that most Israeli voters were unmoved while a minority said they were less likely to back him over his open defiance of Washington.

Mild-mannered and untested in statecraft, Herzog favors re-engagement with the Democratic White House and the Palestinians. But he has steered clear of promising peace or a satisfactory resolution to the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program.

The process of choosing a Prime Minister begins once the results are announced, and it can take weeks, possibly even leading to another election if a coalition cannot be formed.

(With Reuters and AFP)

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