Exit Polls Put Likud and Zionist Union Neck and Neck, Yahad Below Electoral Threshold

Two TV polls give both 27 seats, while Channel 2 gives Likud 28. Third largest party is the Arab Joint List, with 12-13 seats.

Likud and Zionist Union were locked in a tie on Tuesday night after the nation voted for the country's 20th Knesset.

Exit poll results published Channels 1 and 2 gave Likud a one seat advantage, at 28-27 and 27-26 respectively, while Channel 10 had the two parties neck and neck at 27 seats each.

Immediately after the poll results were announced, President Reuven Rivlin called for the establishment of a unity government.

The third largest party was the predominantly Arab Joint List, which received 13 seats, according to two of the polls, and 12 according to the third.

Right behind it was the Yesh Atid party of former finance minister Yair Lapid, which received 12 seats according to one of the polls, and 11 according the two others.

Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu party received 9-10 seats, according to the exit polls.

The only party that may fall below the minimum percentage of the vote necessary to be seated in the Knesset, according to the exit polls, was the Yahad party of former minister Eli Yishai. However, the most recent exit poll from Channel 1 had Yahad pulling through with four seats.

Both the left-wing Meretz party and Yisrael Beiteinu of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman received five seats, which would see them seated in the Knesset.

Of the other parties, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi received 8-9 seats, United Torah Judaism 6-7 seats and Shas seven seats.

Counting of the ballots began immediately after the polls closed at 10 P.M. and will continue throughout the night. Provisional results are expected to be available early Wednesday morning, though it could take until Friday until official results are published.

Starting within the next few days, Rivlin will hold meetings of all the parties that won election to the Knesset. Based on the recommendations of the political leaders, he will assign the task of forming a government to the party leader who has the greatest chance of establishing a coalition.

The president is under no obligation to assign the task to the leader of the largest party in the Knesset if that party does not have the most support.

Based on the results of the exit polls, neither the right nor the left gained a decisive advantage in the campaign, though the right appears to have the advantage..

The avowedly right-wing parties (Likud, Habayit Hayehudi, Yisrael Beiteinu and Yahad) got between 40 and 42 seats, according to the polls, while the left-wing parties (Zionist Union, Meretz and the Joint List) got 44-45 seats.

Therefore, the role of kingmaker will fall on the religious parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism) and particularly on the two parties of the center – Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid with 11-12 seats in the polls, and Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu, with 9-10 seats.

The president's choice is likely to depend to a large degree on the recommendations of those two parties.

At 8 P.M. on Tuesday, the voter turnout stood at 65.7%, a 2% increase over the rate at the same time in 2013.

The release of the exit poll results on Tuesday night capped a day of political drama, during which Netanyahu courted accusations of racism by maintaining that the rule of the right was in danger because Arab voters were "turning out in droves."

He and other politicians from the right, including Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, also accused the left of receiving "foreign funds" to finance its campaign. Bennett said that "foreign nationals" were present at the polling stations, encouraging voters to cast their ballots in favor of leftist parties.

The prime minister also took issue with the Central Elections Committee, which issued an injunction banning the live broadcasting of a statement he was due to make on Tuesday night, on the grounds that it was unlawful election propaganda.

"No one will shut us up," Netanyahu said in response to the injunction. "All day, politicians have been talking in the media The only one who has been forbidden from speaking to the media was me, the prime minister from Likud."

For most Israelis, Election Day was a nonworking day to be enjoyed with family or friends on the beach, at outdoor cafes or in the country's malls.