• Exit polls indicated the Likud party would pick up 37 seats to 33 for the Blue & White party
  • It still was unclear whether Netanyahu would be able to form a government
  • Voter turnout was the highest since 1999

Exit polls indicate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party appeared on track to win the most seats in Monday’s parliamentary election, the third in less than a year, but it remained unclear whether he would be able to form a government.

Israel has been operating with a caretaker government since December 2018.

Israeli broadcasters projected Likud and its right-wing partners winning 60 seats in the latest round of balloting to Benny Gant’s Blue & White party and its center-left coalition picking up 52 to 54 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

Likud itself was likely to win 37 seats to 33 for the Blue & White. The next-highest vote-getter was Joint List with 14 seats, followed by Shas with nine.

Netanyahu, the longest serving leader in Israeli history, tweeted a thank you.

The Jerusalem Post, quoting sources inside Likud, said Netanyahu would attempt to form a government before he goes on trial March 17 on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges. Gantz had argued Netanyahu was unfit to lead, given the charges against him, while Netanyahu portrayed himself as a statesman.

Gantz, the former head of the Israeli military, had said he favors a national unity government if Likud would dump Netanyahu as its leader. He accused Netanyahu, who took a hard right turn, of poisoning Israeli politics.

“Netanyahu, look me in the eye. Your obsession with evading prosecution has driven you to lie, to tear us apart, to sow division … to spread malicious rumors and incitement,” Gantz said. "Netanyahu, you are poisoning Israel.”

Defense Minister Naftali Bennet, head of the Yamini party, claimed a right-wing victory and pledged loyalty to Netanyahu.

“We will recommend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister. We are committed to the right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu to establish a government that will continue to keep Israeli citizens safe, continue to provide support to IDF soldiers, protect the land of Israel and the values of the right."

Voter turnout was pegged at 65.5%, the highest since 1999. Special polling stations were set up for the 5,630 Israelis quarantined for coronavirus exposure. Polls closed at 10 p.m.

Long lines of voters were reported throughout the day.

“I thought there would be fewer people, because some people are annoyed by the lack of government, but there’s actually quite a lot of people out. There were longer lines than last time,” university student Neshama Lopez-Levy told The Jerusalem Post.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz exhorted supporters to get out and vote, fearing Israelis had grown weary of electioneering.

“Emergency Broadcast for right victory. It's up to you!” Netanyahu tweeted.

In another missive, he said: “The gap must be narrowed. You have to go out to vote. … We must win.”

“There won't be another chance! Go vote!” Gantz countered, adding, “I beg of you -- vote!”

Netanyahu spent the day on Facebook Live to amp up turnout as complaints poured into the Central Elections Committee alleging forgeries and hidden ballots.

Blue & White complained about a Likud video of Gantz it said had been doctored. Supreme Court Judge Neal Hendel ordered Likud to take down the video and fined the party $2,153.