The official results of the Israeli election have been announced, confirming that incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party has won the election outright by a one-seat margin over its nearest rival, Benny Gantz's Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance.
Although preliminary vote counts suggested Likud and Blue and White were tied on 35 seats each, Israel's Central Elections Committee – the body which oversees the country's electoral process – only announced the official results and Netanyahu's victory this evening. All votes had been counted as of 11:00 local time (08:00 GMT), but due to the small number of votes which determined whether or not some parties had cleared the minimum 3.25 per cent threshold, the committee decided to double check the data before publishing the official results.
Below are the official results of the election, including the percentage of votes won by each party and the number of Knesset seats to which this equates. Together, these parties now make up the new 120-seat Knesset, the 21st in Israel's history.
- Likud: 26.45 per cent; 36 seats.
- Blue and White (Kahol Lavan): 26.11 per cent; 35 seats
- Shas: 5.99 per cent; eight seats.
- United Torah Judaism (UTJ): 5.77 per cent; seven seats.
- Hadash-Ta'al: 4.49 per cent; six seats.
- Israeli Labor: 4.44 per cent; six seats.
- Yisrael Beiteinu: 4.02 per cent; five seats.
- Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP): 3.70 per cent; five seats.
- Meretz: 3.63 per cent; four seats.
- Kulanu: 3.54 per cent; four seats.
- Ra'am-Balad: 3.34 per cent; four seats.
The heads of each of these parties must now present themselves to Israel's President, Reuven Rivlin, to recommend their choice of prime minister. It is widely expected that the right-wing bloc – which includes Likud, Shas, UTJ, Yisrael Beiteinu, URWP and Kulanu – will recommend Netanyahu as prime minister. Gantz's Blue and White will likely head the opposition, particularly given the unceremonious collapse of the Israeli Labor party which currently serves in this role.
Bennett and Shaked out of Knesset
The official results have sealed the fate of two of Israel's high profile politicians, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. The duo broke away from the Jewish Home party in December to form the New Right (Hayemin Hehadash) party, a gamble which, on this occasion, did not pay off and has brought about their dramatic demise.
Bennett and Shaked have been frantically trying to save themselves today, as their party hovered above and below the minimum threshold throughout the count. The pair had been hoping that the final wave of counting – which surveys so-called "double sealed envelopes," meaning ballots cast in advance of the election by soldiers, overseas diplomats, prisoners and hospital workers – would save them from extinction and garner the 4,300 additional votes they needed to meet the mark.
At around 10:00 local time (07:00 GMT), officials from the Central Elections Committee said that New Right had fallen just 1,380 votes short of the 3.25 per cent threshold. Representatives of the New Right reportedly argued with officials at the committee's headquarters and "sought in vain to be allowed to enter the room where the count was taking place," the Times of Israel reported, citing Israel's Army Radio.
This confusion was compounded by a bug that afflicted the committee's website, causing the site to show that New Right was just above the threshold with 3.26 per cent, but officials stressed that this was a mistake.
At 16:00 local time (13:00 GMT) sources inside the committee emphasised: "There is no mistake in the count of the votes cast in double-sealed envelopes, only in how they were inserted into the system. The malfunction led to only some of the data being processed, and as a result, the display of the results was wrong."
Bennett and Shaked however refused to accept this explanation, instead demanding a recount of the votes, saying "very strange things are happening at the Central Elections Committee, someone is stealing the elections from the right wing". The final announcement will be a blow to both their careers and reputations, after they had hoped to hold on to their current cabinet positions and that New Right would prove more popular than the Jewish Home party they left behind.
Ra'am-Balad survive final count
The official results will also come as a relief to one of the two Arab-Israeli alliances, Ra'am-Balad, which has been teetering near the threshold since Tuesday. After the majority of votes were counted Ra'am-Balad seemed to have won four seats – the minimum required to sit in the Knesset – but the party worried that slight fluctuations in the count could see it excluded from the race altogether.
This would have been a disaster for Palestinian citizens of Israel, whose parties were unable to retain the 13 seats they currently hold under the now-defunct Joint List. For its part, the other predominantly Arab-Israeli alliance, Hadash-Ta'al, won six seats, meaning the two factions combined hold ten seats.
This disappointing performance was caused by a number of factors, including low turnout as a result of boycott and disengagement, as well as foul play by the Likud party which tried to scare Palestinian citizens away from polling stations. In the days since the election commentators have begun to analyse this performance, with some believing the decision to fracture the Joint List was a key factor causing disengagement.
Political analyst and publicist Afif Abu Mukh told the Jerusalem Post that "the Arab public issued a yellow card to the Arab parties and was not far from giving them a red card," adding: "They [the party heads] need to ask themselves whether they represent what the Arab public really wants."