Israel's three major news television stations tonight released exit poll results projecting that the country's 19th Knesset will be dominated by parties clustering around the Israeli political center. The announcements come after months during which analysts predicted Israelis were preparing to vote into power the most right-wing government in the country's history.
In contrast, it appears that both the next Israeli government and the Israeli opposition will be led by parties committed to securing a two-state resolution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As polls had predicted since the campaign began three months ago, the final vote was closely divided between a center-right bloc anchored by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu party and a fractured Israeli center-left. The Likud-Beitenu list is expected to receive just over 30 seats, and Netanyahu will almost certainly be asked by Israel's President Shimon Peres to form the next coalition government. Electoral calculations indicate that he will be able to form a slim majority in Israel's 120-seat Knesset.
The surprise of the evening was the strength of Israel's centrist Yesh Atid party, founded and led by TV personality Yair Lapid. If exit polling holds, the party will have received enough votes to secure its place as Israel's second-largest party. Yesh Atid ran on a platform of secularism, governmental reform, and free market-oriented economic policies. Demographically, it draws from Israel's moderate middle class.
There is minimal distance between Likud-Beitenu and Yesh Atid on critical issues. Both parties share a foreign policy emphasizing the need for a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, tempered with skepticism regarding Palestinian willingness to make and abide by negotiated agreements. Domestically, both parties are committed to pursuing liberal economic policies.
The next Israeli opposition will likely almost certainly be led by the center-left Labor party, which seems set to take its place as Israel's third most powerful party. Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich has taken her party to the left economically, but Labor shares with Likud-Beitenu and Yesh Atid -- and with huge swaths of the Israeli public -- both a commitment to a two-state solution and a skepticism regarding Palestinian policies.