Israelis delivered the narrowest of election victories to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, but did not endorse what most analysts had predicted would be a lurch to right, instead giving their backing to a broader, centrist coalition. With almost all the votes now counted, Israel’s two political blocs – the left and the right – were level on 60 seats in the 120-member Knesset, the closest Israeli election result in history. Bibi, as Mr Netanyahu is universally known in Israel, secured 31 seats, a huge disappointment for his Likud party, and its formal coalition partner Yisrael Beiteinu, which lost a quarter of the 42 seats they held in the last Knesset.
Mr Netanyahu told supporters at an election night rally in Tel Aviv that he would seek, “as broad a government as possible,” when the horse-trading over which parties join the new coalition begins today. “I believe the election results are an opportunity to make changes that the citizens of Israel are hoping for and that will serve all of Israel’s citizens. I intend on leading these changes, and to this end we must form as wide a coalition as possible, and I have already begun talks to that end this evening,” he said.
His speech was a long way from his campaign rhetoric, which seemed set on attracting right wing voters. This is largely because of the surprisingly strong performance of the centrist Yesh Atid, a new party formed and led by former television personality Yair Lapid, which finished second with 19 seats. Polls published before the vote suggested the party would win just 12 seats, and trail in fourth or fifth place.