Exit Polls Project Netanyahu Will Lead Israel For Another Term

Election officials were reporting a relatively high voter turnout during Israel's national election on Tuesday. Exit polls projected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will remain in power for a third term.

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Today was election day in Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been re-elected to lead the Israeli parliament, but his right-wing alliance lost at least 10 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. The Likud-Beitenu bloc gave up ground both to the far right and to the center left. And that means Netanyahu could have a tough time building a stable coalition government.

Joining me now to talk about today's election results is NPR's Larry Abramson who is in Tel Aviv. And, Larry, help us understand first why Likud did so badly, and who took those seats?

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: Well, it was actually two parties from different parts of the spectrum. First, there's the Jewish Home Party, which kind of came out of nowhere. They seemed to have won 12 seats. This party is led by Naftali Bennett. He's a really dynamic campaigner who said he does not want peace talks with the Palestinians and actually wants to annex parts of the West Bank.

But the big surprise tonight is Yesh Atid. That's a centrist party and it's now heading to be the second-biggest party in the Knessett, or the parliament. It's led by Yair Lapid, a TV journalist whose father went from TV into politics, just like he's doing. And Yesh Atid's strength is really going to make it very tough for Netanyahu to build the traditional right-wing coalition that he's used to.

BLOCK: Now, Netanyahu has been slipping in the polls since this campaign got underway a few weeks ago. What happened? Why did they slip?

ABRAMSON: Some people here are blaming his decision to run a join slate with Yisrael Beiteinu. That's a party that was founded with the support of Russian immigrants. And they ran a joint slate with the goal of gaining more seats, instead they lost a bunch. And many people feel the alliance diluted Likud's message and that some people who are loyal Likud people just didn't turn out, and turnout, in fact, was a big problem for Likud at the polls. Netanyahu also does have a strong opposition here from young people who are angry about the cost of living in this country. So that pushed voters on the left to actually show up, and their turnout was quite a bit higher.

Anyway, it's all a big surprise in an election that was supposed to push the Israeli government further to the right.

BLOCK: And Larry, if new alliances result from these elections, what would those mean for the possibility of peace talks with the Palestinians?

ABRAMSON: Well, a senior person in Yesh Atid, this new centrist party, said again tonight they want a coalition that they join to be committed to restarting peace talks with the Palestinians. Now, of course, officially Netanyahu - Prime Minister Netanyahu - is for a two-state solution and for negotiating, but he has let those talks stall for many, many years. So this strong push from the center left could lead to new talks, but it depends on how hard Yesh Atid pushes, and of course Benjamin Netanyahu is still the prime minister. It's his call.

BLOCK: And what happens next?

ABRAMSON: Netanyahu has to get on the phone and start bargaining with all these parties and see if he can glue together a coalition out of what seemed to be a bunch of diametrically opposed parties, and he's going to have to make some promises and parcel out power and put something together and then present that proposed coalition to President Shimon Peres, who has the final say, really. You know, in the last election in 2009, the biggest party, Kadima, was not able to form a coalition, and then Netanyahu's party actually came in second but they ended up in charge. That could happen again, but it's pretty unlikely because Netanyahu's slate is still way out in front of the other parties. But like I said, he's still going to have a hard time dealing with these results.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Larry Abramson in Tel Aviv. Larry, thanks so much.

ABRAMSON: All right. Thank you.

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