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Netanyahu Emerges With Victory In Israeli Election


When Israelis went to sleep last night, exit polling showed the two main parties in Israel's election more or less tied. Then the votes were counted. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party is now seen as the clear winner, getting five or six more seats in the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, than the center-left opposition party. That represents a victory for a politician who has risen to be the global face of Israel, most recently in his speech before the U.S. Congress. With all that, his party is well short of a majority in Israel's Parliament because there are many, many parties there. And NPR's Emily Harris is in Jerusalem covering Netanyahu's next step. And, Emily, what is it?

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Well, his next step, Steve, is to try to form a government. He doesn't have a clear majority in Parliament, so he needs to negotiate. And this is all math now. If you add up Netanyahu's Likud party, right-wing parties and religious parties, which are all more or less natural allies with Netanyahu, then he's still not quite to that 61 number, which is the majority in Israel's Parliament. So he needs to get some support from the center, and that's what he's going to be doing for the next few days. It's already started - intense negotiations with all of the political leaders from the various parties.

INSKEEP: So this is a normal situation in Israeli politics. He's got about 30 seats. You said he needs 61. So we're not just talking about finding one coalition partner as people have seen in Britain, say. We're talking about finding three, four, five other parties that can work with him. Is that right?

HARRIS: Yeah, that's absolutely right. And what that involves is basically a lot of promises. I mean, negotiations will happen on policy. Negotiations will happen on who - which parties get control of which ministries. The focus here today is looking at one relatively small centrist party that is being described as the kingmaker. This is a party that the leader has roots in Likud. He served under Prime Minister Netanyahu before, but he's put the economy front and center. So whether he decides to join a Netanyahu-led government will depend a lot on how Netanyahu wants to support the policies he's interested in.

INSKEEP: The man who founded that party, Moshe Kahlon, who is he exactly?

HARRIS: This is Moshe Kahlon's first time leading a party, but he has been in politics for a number of years. He's most well known in Israel for lowering cell phone prices. He was communications minister in a previous Netanyahu-led government, and he brought in competition and lower prices - really significantly affecting Israelis' budgets. And the cost of living was a major issue in this election campaign.

Although he may only have about 10 seats in Parliament, Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu party could extract some high prices from Netanyahu. There is some personal animosity between Moshe Kahlon and Benjamin Netanyahu, so that will have to be overcome if they're going to work together in a government.

INSKEEP: Emily, one policy question; in the last days of the campaign, Netanyahu addressed an issue we've been reporting on here on MORNING EDITION, the battle for land in the Middle East. He said he now opposes the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. What are the likely effects of that?

HARRIS: That could affect international relationships, in particular relationships with the U.S. and with Europe. Those statements were appealing to the far right, and those were the voters Netanyahu was trying to bring into the fold at that time. One thing being discussed here, though, is a unity government, which might bring in the center-left party, which came in second into a government with Netanyahu. It's possible that could affect his future stances on those positions or at least deflect some of them in the international eye.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem. Emily, thanks.

HARRIS: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.
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