The final polls are in and Israel’s election is a nail-biter

A Likud party supporter holds a picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, April 7, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The final polls before Israel’s national election on Tuesday show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party running either neck and neck or up to five seats behind upstart challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.

The last polls allowed by law were published Friday. Exit polling will begin at 10 p.m. Tuesday Israel time.

The final poll of Friday, aired in the evening on commercial Channel 13, showed Likud and Blue and White each with 28 seats. The Israel Hayom/i24 News poll also had the two parties in a tie with 27 seats apiece. The Hebrew-language Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Acharonot poll released earlier in the day had Likud winning 26 seats and Blue and White 30.

The same polls put the struggling Labor Party at 10 to 11 seats, followed by the combined Arab parties Hadash-Ta’al at six or seven seats.

The Zehut party of former Likud lawmaker Moshe Feiglin polled at five or six seats, depending on the survey. Feiglin’s quasi-libertarian and nationalist party has captured the attention of young people who support the complete legalization of marijuana.

Regardless, Israelis are notorious for changing their minds about who to vote for.

A party must garner at least 3.25 percent of the total vote in order to pass the threshold to enter the Knesset. Of the over 40 parties running in this national election, only about 14 parties will manage to pass the threshold.

A ruling government coalition must have at least 61 seats, and preferably more if it wants to pass legislation on a regular basis. And the party that receives the most votes on Tuesday may not be the party that gets to form the next government.

Following the results, President Reuven Rivlin will meet with the heads of each party to find out with which candidate they would choose to form a government. Most polls show the right-wing bloc appearing to have enough seats to form a government, even if Netanyahu’s Likud finishes several seats behind Blue and White, it likely will be Netanyahu and not Gantz who is tasked with assembling the next government.

Things were thrown into a tailspin on Sunday, however, when the Zehut’s Feiglin — who had been saying in recent days that he would be willing to join a government led by either Netanyahu or Gantz, as long as he could advance his party’s policies — said he was considering recommending himself as prime minister.

The Channel 13 poll gave Netanyahu and a right-wing bloc 60 seats without Zehut and 66 seats with it. The Yediot poll gave the right-wing bloc 63 seats and 57 without Zehut. The Israel Hayom-i24 News poll gave Netanyahu 64 seats with Zehut and 58 without.

Projected totals for some of the smaller parties include five to seven seats for the Union of Right-Wing parties; five to six seats for the New Right; five to eight for the left-wing Meretz party; five to six seats for the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party; and up to four or five seats for Yisrael Beiteinu, if it passes the threshold, according to some polls.

Netanyahu, in an effort to strip votes from some of the smaller parties, told right-wing supporters on Sunday that if they chose to vote for a smaller right-wing party that Likud might not have enough votes for Rivlin to realistically allow Netanyahu to form the next government. Whether that is true remains to be seen.

The prime minister also vowed to consider annexing the West Bank if elected in an effort to rally right-wing voters.

Paper ballots cast throughout the country will be counted on Tuesday night, with a preliminary total on Wednesday morning. Votes cast by soldiers on their bases, patients in hospitals and diplomats working overseas are added later.