Polls by three major Israeli TV stations indicate that Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies would capture the 61-seat majority in parliament required to form a new government.
Exit polls in Israel have indicated that ex-PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies may have won enough seats to return to power after three and a half years of political gridlock, a possible outcome Palestine said reflected "growing extremism and racism in Israeli society."
The polls on Tuesday are preliminary, however, and final results could change as votes are tallied in the coming hours.
The polls by three major Israeli TV stations indicated that Netanyahu and his allies would capture the 61-seat majority in parliament required to form a new government.
"It can flip, we don’t know," Netanyahu told supporters after the exit polls came out. "We’re not dead. We’re alive and kicking, possibly before a great victory, but we have to wait until the morning."
Israelis voted in their fifth national election since 2019, with early indications pointing to the highest turnout in more than two decades as they hope to break the political deadlock that has paralysed the country.
Perhaps fearing that Arab voters would deny him victory, Netanyahu tweeted allegations of violence and vote tampering at Arab polling stations, without providing evidence.
The Central Elections Committee said in a statement that it was "not aware of any unusual incidents in the Arab community” and dismissed "baseless rumours about alleged 'forgeries'."
Journalist Fetan Elwan describes the mood in Israel after exit polls show former PM Benjamin Netanyahu's possible victory pic.twitter.com/h9k1mk1UwS— TRT World (@trtworld) November 1, 2022
'Rising extremism' in Israel
Projected results from Israel's election show "rising extremism" in Israel, Palestine's prime minister said on Wednesday, after the extreme-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Religious Zionism alliance appeared headed for major gains.
Ben-Gvir is a disciple of a racist rabbi who was assassinated in the 1990s and has promised a hard line against the Palestinians.
"The rise of extreme religious right-wing parties in the Israeli elections... is a result of growing extremism and racism in Israeli society," PM Mohammed Shtayyeh said after exit polls indicated Religious Zionism could double its tally in parliament from seven seats to 14.
"The outcome of this election will be a government that will continue conducting crimes against our people while blocking the horizon for a political solution," said Wasel Abu Youssef, a senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Arabs make up some 20 percent of Israel's population and have been a key factor in blocking Netanyahu in recent elections, but this time around their vote was split among three different factions, each of which was at risk of falling below the threshold, which would mean those votes were wasted.
Turnout stood at 66.3 percent, over five points higher than the same hour in the 2021 election and the highest at that point since 1999, when the main issue was the flagging peace process with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, would be able to battle the charges as prime minister, improving his chances of avoiding conviction or jail time. His opponents view him as a grave threat to Israel’s democratic institutions and the rule of law.
"While the exit polls may indicate a trend, it is important to note that there have been discrepancies between these surveys and the actual results in past rounds of elections," said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent think tank.
But if the results hold true, the next government "is poised to propose a series of reforms that would seek to politicize the judiciary and weaken the checks and balances that exist between the branches of government and serve as fundamental components of Israeli democracy," he added.