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Netanyahu Hopes To Win 4th Term In Israeli Election


Votes are being counted from today's Parliamentary elections in Israel. Results won't be clear for some time, but exit polls show - as expected - a close race between Likud Party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and challengers from a center-left coalition. NPR's Emily Harris has been covering this campaign and joins us now from Jerusalem. Hey, Emily.


GONYEA: OK, so what else do you know so far?

HARRIS: OK, well, like you said, we have exit polls and that's it from Israel's three major TV channels. These exit polls show this is a very tight election. They show that Netanyahu's center-right Likud Party and the center-left Zionist Union - this is a ticket that was created for this election, led by the head of the Labor Party, Isaac Herzog - both of these parties are winning only about maybe just over a quarter of the seats in Parliament. We've got early responses to these exit polls. Netanyahu says this close race is a, quote, "great victory for Likud and for Israel." He did come from behind in the last polls. Herzog also claimed this as a great achievement for the left and says that these results are going to pave the way to put labor back in power. Labor has been out of power for more than a decade in Israel. But in truth, we might not know for days or even weeks who the next prime minister of Israel will actually be.

GONYEA: And why would it take so long?

HARRIS: OK, this is a parliamentary system - very different from the United States's system. Any government in Israel needs the backing of a majority of parliament members. As you just heard, neither of the big parties is going to get an outright majority. That's never happened in Israel's history. So what happens is the president here consults with the parties and then he chooses whoever he thinks he has the best chance of cobbling together a government among the 10 parties or so that are likely to wind up in Parliament. And the president gives that leader a chance to try to put a government together. And then they start negotiating and horse trading. Parties are going to negotiate on policy of the new government. They'll trade their support for budget for their particular interests. They'll try to secure ministries. And this takes some time. Whoever's trying to form the government gets 42 days. It can be even extended a little bit. And in the end because of all this coalition building that has to happen, the makeup of Israel's next government could actually be determined by a medium-sized party - a party with half the seats or less in Parliament compared to the major parties, but a party that has just enough seats and a centrist-enough position to be able to swing a coalition one way or the other.

GONYEA: How did Election Day unfold there?

HARRIS: It was relatively uneventful. Turnout was a little higher, it looks like, than elections two years ago. There was campaigning still going on, although there are really strict rules here about broadcasting campaign events on Election Day. Netanyahu turned to his Facebook page to say that right-wing parties are in danger and tried to get people out to vote. He accused left-wing organizations of busing in Arab-Israeli voters to the polls. He was promptly accused of racism. And the election commission forbade media outlets from broadcasting a Netanyahu news conference live later in the day.

GONYEA: And what are the issues from the campaign that are likely to carry over now to this coalition building, haggling phase of things?

HARRIS: The two big ones are going to be security and the economy. Two of the parties that could be kingmakers in these coalition negotiations put economic issues front and center in their campaigns. And they will likely try to negotiate to keep economic issues firmly in the focus of whatever government they decide to join. These are issues here like the cost of housing, which is very high, and the growing gap between rich and poor people. Security - always an issue in Israel and Israeli politics, but in this campaign somewhat different views emerged about what really makes Israel secure long-term. Now, one of those issues is Iran, of course, and the threat of Iran getting a nuclear weapon. But another issue is the relationship with the U.S., and this relationship was badly frayed when Netanyahu came to Washington to give a speech on Iran. Netanyahu's left-wing challenger, Isaac Herzog, has said that one of his priorities would be to improve ties with the White House if he were to lead the next government. And in the end, peace talks with the Palestinians came up as a potential election campaign when Netanyahu said yesterday he would not be willing to support the creation of a Palestinian state if he were to be the next prime minister.

GONYEA: All right, thanks, Emily.

HARRIS: Thank you.

GONYEA: That's NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem where polls are now closed in Israel's Parliamentary elections. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Harris
International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.