JERUSALEM – The Israeli election was too close to hold early Wednesday, with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his main rival, former Army Chief Benny Ganz, a centrist, immediately commanding enough support to form a coalition majority, according to initial polls.
But it seems that Mr. Ganz's blue and white party came before Mr Netanyahu's conservative Likud, giving the small third party the power to decide the outcome. And his eagerness to force a coalition for unity, involving both parties, made it possible, if the predictions made, Mr. Gantz would get the first chance to form a government.
"According to current results, Netanyahu has not fulfilled his mission," Mr. Gantz told a crowd of friendly supporters in Tel Aviv early Wednesday. "We did it."
"Israeli society is strong," he added, "but it is wounded and the time has come to heal it."
Long known as a political magician, Mr. Netanyahu was campaigning for a frenetic right until the polls on Tuesday night, warning right-wing Jewish voters that Arabs were outnumbered and floating to ban election day for campaign propaganda encourage their supporters into action.
Looking visibly overlooked and sipping often from a glass of water, Mr. Netanyahu told a small but strong crowd in Tel Aviv that he would wait for the actual results, but planned to begin negotiations to create a "strong Zionist government and prevent dangerous anti-government government. "
" There will be no, there can be no government that relies on anti-Arab Arab parties, parties that deny Israel's very existence as a Jewish and democratic state, "he said. "Parties that glorify and praise the bloodthirsty terrorists who kill our soldiers, our citizens and our children. It just can't be. "
With indictments leveled against him in three corruption cases, the obvious result of the election will put him in serious danger. As prime minister, he may remain in office, even if charged under Israeli law. And he can squeeze his coalition to give him immunity from prosecution. But as a smaller minister or ordinary lawmaker, he will have to resign if charged.
Israeli exit polls often turn out to be unreliable and official results, which are expected to come out at night, can dramatically change the picture. Many Israelis remember the 1996 election when they lay down with Labor leader Shimon Perez as the victor and woke up in the morning with Mr Netanyahu as their next prime minister.
The two main candidates had offered Israelis vastly different choices.
n. Netanyahu is seeking a narrow coalition with right-wing and super-Orthodox parties that have promised to grant him immunity as he vows to annex much of the occupied West Bank. His strong reliance on the far-right parties will only perpetuate, and even extend, what many see as disproportionate influence on matters of religion and the state.
Mr. Gantz promised to build a broad, secular government aimed at limiting the influence of the super-Orthodox, protecting the institutions of democracy and the rule of law, and healing the internal divisions. He promised to run "from the center out," saying 80 percent of Israelis agreed to 80 percent of the questions.
But in the aftermath of the election, Israel was held in detention between these two visions and unclear about it.
Only five months after the last inconclusive vote, the country can now face weeks of frantic coalition talks, political paralysis, theft and instability. The new government may take until November to be drafted, which will mark an entire year in campaign mode, a first for Israeli politics.
The process will begin in a matter of days when President Raven Rivlin invites party representatives to recommend their election as prime minister, Mr Rivlin will mandate the candidate with the greatest chance of forming a viable coalition and promising to move as far as possible as quickly as possible and do everything possible to avoid impasse and third elections.
It may also bring Mr Gantz and Mr Netanyahu together for informal discussions even before the final official results are available.
The most clear winner on Tuesday, according to initial polls, was Mr. Lieberman, a longtime ally of Netanyahu, who turned into a nemesis leading an ultra-nationalist secular party.
Mr. Lieberman immediately moved to play the role of royal maker, calling for the formation of a "broad government, not a government, to fight for its survival week by week, from one distrust movement to another."
Speech after As exit polls emerged on Tuesday night, he insisted on sticking to his election campaign promise that his party Israel Bethenu would not join a right-wing government that was dependent on ultra-Orthodox support.
"We have only one option," he said. "A broad, liberal, national government composed of Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud and blue and white."
If Mr. Netanyahu emerged with a clear victory, Mr. Liberman would have run the country through a costly, unwanted, and exhausting second election. nothing. Instead, he appeared to have triggered the bulletin, set the agenda for the contest, and came out of it in a strong position to help decide Israel's next leader.
For the 60-year-old Mr. Gantz, the preliminary results hold the promise of great achievement. A newcomer to politics, his first run in April ended with a draw for Likud and the Blue and White.
A late wave of exit polls showed a blue and white with a slight edge over Likud in two polls and the two coalitions bound in another poll. None of the studies gave any of the people in the ruling majority.
The center-left has waited for many years for a candidate with security and stature certificates to be the standard bearer against Mr Netanyahu, who introduced himself as the only leader capable of defending Israel.
But the path to forming a unity government can be complicated. Mr Gantz has promised not to join the government with a prime minister facing charges, while Mr Netanyahu is unlikely to give up another chance at the helm.
"Someone's going to have to give up," said Reven Hazan, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in an interview late Tuesday night. "Either Likud enters a government without Netanyahu, or Ganz enters a government with Netanyahu. This is anyone's assumption. And at the moment there is no incentive for either of them to do so. "
The leaders of the younger Likuds have signaled their desire for a chance to succeed, Mr. Netanyahu. But his allies were on the defensive Tuesday.
"It will not be Netanyahu's estrangement," said Miri Regev, the minister of his culture and a liqueur brand of fire, popular with the party's roots. "We're all behind Netanyahu."
However, some members of Likud, who had assembled at the central session of the party in Tel Aviv, firmly stated that it had become an obligation.
"I think Likud will do much better with someone else at the top," says Haim Guterman, 26, of Petach Tikva.
Mr. Netanyahu's calls for desperately sounding campaigns became the basis of the Israeli election, but if the initial polls were correct, for the first time, all of them could be true: his own constituents were indeed outnumbered, and the right votes were indeed wasted by a small extremist the Otzma Yehudit party, which did not clear the threshold to be set in parliament.
In perhaps the sharpest confusion, Arabs were indeed flocking to "huge numbers", Israeli news agencies reported: Turnout among Arab citizens appeared to have increased over 60 percent, compared to just 49 percent in April.
"Netanyahu has found that incitement has a high price," says Ayman Ode, chairman of the Joint List of Mostly Arab Parties.
Mr. Lieberman's battle with the super-Orthodox brought to the center of the election campaign a question that divided the Israelis as long as they had a state: tensions between secular Israelis, who were once a majority of Jewish citizens, and religious Israelis.
n. Lieberman aligns himself with the liberals on the left and center, calling for a restriction on the financial and social burdens that religious ones impose on other Israelis. They demanded more pluralistic options for marriages and conversions, now dominated by the ultra-Orthodox rabbi. And they expressed rage at the growing influence of a group of ultra-religious nationalist Jews who upheld anti-feminist, anti-gay views and far-right, messianic ideology.
But Mr Netanyahu had forged an iron attachment to the ultra-Orthodox and for good reason: They vote en masse and at a pace that envies other parties. And with secular leaders targeting them, ultra-Orthodox leaders have said it is easier than ever to gather their constituents to the walls.
Even Mr Netanyahu's biggest comfort zones – national security and diplomacy – were the source of unexpected upsets. .
President Trump has pressured him not to allow two Democratic members of Congress to enter Israel and launch a political army. Then Mr Trump spread the idea of opening negotiations with Iran, which Mr Netanyahu opposed. And Mr. Netanyahu's supporter of the White House, John Bolton, the hawkish and ferocious national security adviser against Iran, was expelled.
After all, Mr. Trump's only gift to Mr. Netanyahu was a Twitter message on Saturday in which he spoke of a defense treaty between the United States and Israel. National security professionals in both countries have long been against such a pact.
Mr. Netanyahu fought on two fronts as his political agenda approached his legal one.
Faced with a possible indictment in of three corruption cases on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, he has a last chance of avoiding criminal prosecution by a special hearing with the attorney-general appointed on 2 October. Winning parliamentary immunity may offer the best chance of avoiding prosecution.
One of the biggest surprises of the election was the sheer strength of the Arab vote. According to initial polls, the Arab bloc could get up to three new seats in parliament.
Only 49 percent of Arab voters submitted their ballots in April, as many punished Arab MPs for dissolving rival factions. Politicians took the hint and reunited in a single joint list.
Bearing in mind that Arab citizens want to see tangible improvements in their lives and exercise influence that comes to one-sixth of the voting age, Joint Leader Ayman Ode has extended the possibility of joining the leftist government -Hanz.
Mr. Ganz, in turn, interviewed news organizations in Arabic, and blue-white and other Jewish parties promised to fight crime, build homes and add hospital beds in Arab areas. Voter turnout is expected to reach 60 percent among Arab voters.