According to the early exit polls, Netanyahu and Likud have stormed back to win 27 or 28 seats, which puts them at roughly the same number of seats as their main competition in the Zionist Union. There are still more votes yet to be counted in an election that saw very high turnout, and one of Likud’s smaller would-be coalition partners may not have won a large enough percentage of the vote to qualify for any seats. However, the likelihood of a government including Likud has increased compared to just a few days ago. Netanyahu is already declaring victory:
Against all odds:a great victory for the Likud. A major victory for the people of Israel!
— בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) March 17, 2015
If this holds up, it is unfortunate for Israel, but it may also be helpful in clarifying the extent to which U.S. and Israeli interests diverge and sometimes directly clash. Netanyahu’s mismanagement of the relationship with the U.S. certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt him at home, and his open opposition to U.S. policy goals doesn’t appear to have cost him anything. Despite a very public, acrimonious rift between the president and Netanyahu and a clumsy attempt by the prime minister to interfere in American politics, Netanyahu’s party rallied in the final days of the campaign. Even though Likud had been sinking in the polls in the last few weeks, it appears to have outperformed the polls that were taken when Netanyahu first broke up his earlier coalition government. His latest demagoguery on Palestine and “Arab voters” seems to have paid off, albeit perhaps at the cost of cannibalizing support from some of his other nationalist and pro-settler allies. If there is some consolation in all this, it is that the other nationalist and pro-settler parties appear to have lost some support, and there may now be a “national unity” government instead of the nationalist bloc that had been in power. Things will be clearer tomorrow once the final results are tallied.