Israelis across the country took to the polls on Tuesday morning, to elect the 19th Knesset. Of the more than 5.65 million Israelis eligible to vote, some 3.6 million cast their ballots, with a turnout of 4 percent more than in the 2009 elections.
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The average exit polls showed a tight race between the right-wing and center-left blocs, with the prior winning 61 seats and the latter 59.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu list made a last-ditch effort to push its voters out to the polls, with officials in the ruling party voicing fears that they would not be able to retain their lead in the election.
In this election, for the first time, the public was able to follow the counting of ballots in real time on the government’s Memshal Zamin website, or using a special cell phone app. An estimated 85 percent of the ballots will be counted overnight, with the rest counted on Wednesday. After all the votes are counted, the Central Elections Committee will publish the results.
2:47 A.M. After 68 percent of the votes have been counted, results show Labor Party loses seats, Kadima passes the threshold. The seats are as follows: Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu 31, Yesh Atid 19, Labor Party 15, Shas 12, Habayit Hayehudi 11, Hatnuah 7, United Torah Judaism 7, Meretz 6, United Arab List – Ta'al 4, Balad 3, Hadash 3, Kadima 2.
1:44 A.M. Shas chairman Eli Yishai spoke Wednesday night with Netanyahu, Yacimovich, Lapid and Bennett. Yishai will meet Netanyahu on Wednesday and is expected to meet with the heads of the other three parties later in the week.
01:10 A.M. After more than 600,000 votes are counted, Channel 2 updates exit poll results. Seats shift from Yesh Atid to Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu; Kadima is very close to passing the threshold. Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu 33, Yesh Atid 18, Labor Party 16, Shas 12, Habayit Hayehudi 11, United Torah Judaism 7, Hatnuah 7, Meretz 6, Hadash 4, United Arab List – Ta'al 3, Balad 3.
0:38 A.M. Source in neighboring Arab country tells Haaretz reporter: Israelis are searching for new stars, not ideology. You have forgotten that elections are for choosing leaders, not stars.
0:35 A.M. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks for the first time following exit polls. "I am proud to be your prime minister and I thank you for giving me the opportunity, for the third time, to lead the State of Israel," he says. "It is a great honor, but it is also a great responsibility. It is an opportunity to make changes that the citizens of Israel wish upon themselves and that will serve all the citizens of Israel. I intend on making those changes by forming a the broadest coalition possible, and I have begun working toward that tonight."
Netanyahu continues, "The government that we'll form will be based on five core principles. First, powerful security in the face of the great challenges ahead of us, and the first among them was and remains a nuclear Iran. The second is economic responsibility, and we won't concede on this. Third is a responsible approach to the peace process and the constant striving for a real peace. Fourth, the equal distribution of the social burden. Fifth is reducing the cost of living, first and foremost housing prices in Israel. I see many partners for this task. We will hold hands and, with the help of God, form a broad government, and together we will succeed."
0:30 A.M. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid spoke for the first time since the exit polls were announced. "Exactly 10 years ago, in 2003, on a night like tonight, I sat at my parents' house when the election exit polls were broadcast on television at 10 P.M. Just like tonight, the colorful graphics declared that Shinui, my father's party, won 15 seats, and we all jumped up and screamed and hugged, and I discovered that my father remained seated in his chair, looking serious and contemplative, and almost sad. Suddenly, there was quiet, and I asked him, "What happened?" He said, "I have just understood the weight of the responsibility that has been bestowed upon me." I didn't understand him then. I thought it was alright to be a little happy. But I understand him tonight. A heavy responsibility has been placed upon our shoulders. Throughout the elections, there was a sentence that was repeated: No matter where you go, don't be like those who, the moment they are elected, forget. I have just been elected, and I will not forget."
0:30 A.M. Netanyahu: We must form a broad government; I started working on this tonight
0:29 A.M. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks for the first time following exit polls: I am proud to be your prime minister and I thank you for giving me the opportunity, for the third time, to lead the State of Israel.
0:08 A.M. Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich issues a call to create a coalition to block Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming his next government.
In a speech to her supporters following the results of the exit polls, she says, "It is very possible that we find before ourselves this evening a great opportunity to put together an alternative government to the Netanyahu government."
"I promise here in front of you, and the public listening to me, that I will do all in my power to rally all the forces that will constitute an opposition bloc to an extreme, capitalist government that is cruel to its citizens This is possible and I will do everything in my power to put together a government that will be a socially conscious government and that will propel forward the peace process."
Yacimovich adds, "As long as Netanyahu is prime minister, nothing will change."
11.55 P.M. Central Election Committee chief statistician Prof. Avraham Diskin: Likud-Beiteinu's low showing results from low turnout among Russian immigrants, Yisrael Beiteinu's core constituency.
11:54 P.M. Naftali Bennett declares to his supporters, "Habayit Hayehudi is the new home for the entire Jewish people." Bennett continues, "Today we have built a new home for those who want an Israel that is confident in itself: confident of its strength and that knows how to protect the home front, not just with bomb shelters, but also with a courageous spirit. Our enemies will know not to mess with the State of Israel."
11.51 P.M. Bennett: We're advocating proud, not apologetic, Zionism.
11.50 P.M. Bennett: Habayit Hayehudi will fight for the People of Israel, just as we have for the Land of Israel.
11.49 P.M. Bennett: Today we've established a new home, in which people feel safe not because they're tucked in bomb shelters, but because they're willing to fight.
11.48 P.M. Naftali Bennett: IDF soldiers, you are our true heroes.
11:45 P.M. Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu campaign chairman and Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar announces that the joint-ticket would form the next government and will seek to form as broad a governing coalition as possible.
"Likud-Beiteinu is the largest party," says Sa'ar. "Benjamin Netanyahu will be the next prime minister. It's clear that the right-wing bloc will have a majority in the next Knesset. We need, as much as possible, a broad coalition government in order to face the challenges that stand before us. Sa'ar added," There will be left-wing attempts to block Benjamin Netanyahu. Whoever shows a sense of obligation to the state will be able to take part in the next coalition government."
11.38 P.M. Arab politicians: Low turnout among Arabs kept Netanyahu in power.
11.35 P.M. Yesh Atid's Yael German: It is yet unclear who will be the next prime minister. It's no secret that we want to be in government, but no candidate should take us for granted.
11.28 P.M. Likud minister Gideon Sa'ar: "Likud is the largest party, and it's quite clear that the right wing has won a majority in the Knesset."
11.26 P.M. Netanyahu, Yacimovich and Livni phoned Yair Lapid and congratulated him on his party's achievement.
11.21 P.M. Netanyahu: The people have made a clear decision - they want me to carry on as PM. I'll try and form as broad a coalition as possible.
11.12 P.M. Netanyahu thanks people for having "reelected" him.
11.01 P.M. Shas celebrates achievement, although the party expected a huge leap with Aryeh Deri's return to the helm.
10.56 P.M. Yair Lapid posted "thank you" on his Facebook page.
10.54 P.M. Final voter turnout amounted to 66.6 percent, as opposed to 65.2 percent in 2009.
10.52 P.M. Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni: I returned to politics 10 days before the deadline. I said it then, and I'm saying it again now: I'm here to stay. I'll stay to see through our mission: To make this country a better place for its citizens and its young people; a country that's part of the free world and is seeking peace and willing to engage in a peace process.
10.48 P.M. Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich: "This is a political turmoil we're witnessing, and we'll know its full extent only tomorrow morning. There's a good chance to change the government and get rid of Netanyahu. I'll do my utmost to form a coalition that's based on social justice and peaceful overtures. I will not squander this opportunity to rid ourselves of the Netanyahu government. We must engage seriously and discreetly, because Israel's fate is at stake."
10.39 P.M. Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett: We're back at the political center stage.
10.38 P.M. Kadima MK Israel Hasson: It's too soon to speak of our demise.
10.31 P.M. MK Dov Khenin: Today was a vote of no confidence in Netanyahu.
10.29 P.M. Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On: As of tomorrow morning, we're embarking on a mission to bring democracy back to Israel, to speak in favor of the peace process again.
10.27 P.M. Arab party Balad might not pass electoral threshold, exit polls show.
10.12 P.M. According to exit polls, the right wing gets 61 seats, center-left 59.
10 P.M.: Average exit poll results: Likud-Beiteinu, 31; Yesh Atid, 19; Labor,17; Habayit Hayehud, 12; Shas, 12; Hatnuah; 7; Meretz, 7; United Torah Judaism 6, Hadash 4; United Arab List - Ta'al, 3; Balad, 2.
9.21 P.M. The White House said that regardless of the results of the Israeli election, the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would not change.
"We will continue to make clear that only through direct negotiations can the Palestinians and the Israelis ... achieve the peace they both deserve," said spokesman Jay Carney. He said the complexity of the conflict, not Obama's relationship with the Israeli leader, was the main impediment.
9.11 P.M. 70.6 percent of Israel's 10,000 prisoners have voted, as opposed to a mere 21 percent in 2009, after the law was amended to allow them to vote with a prisoner ID as well as their identity card.
8.30 P.M. Voter turnout stands at 63.7 percent, as opposed to 59.7 percent at the same time in 2009.