Slim majority for Netanyahu and his allies

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party 
and his hard-line allies have won a narrow majority in parliamentary elections, exit polls show.

In an election far closer than polls forecast, Mr Netanyahu’s Likud Party captured just 31 seats, well below expectations.

But with his hard-line and religious allies, he would still be able to form a narrow majority in the 120-seat parliament, according to the exit polls.

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In the biggest surprise, the centrist Yesh Atid, party headed by political newcomer Yair Lapid captured as many as 19 seats, well above the forecasts. That would position Mr Lapid to become either opposition leader or seek a major cabinet post if he decides to join Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

Mr Netanyahu’s campaign manager, Gideon Saar, said 
he hoped to form a broad coalition.

The widely held assumption of a victory by Mr Netanyahu before voting came in spite of his record.

There is no peace process, growing diplomatic isolation and a slowing economy, and his main ally has been forced to step down as foreign minister because of corruption allegations.

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Even so, Mr Netanyahu has managed to convince many Israelis that he offers a respectable choice by projecting experience, toughness and great powers of communication in both native Hebrew and flawless American English.

He was also handed a gift by the opposition – persistent squabbling among an array of parties in the moderate camp has made this the first election in decades without two clear opposing candidates for prime minister.

“His rivals are fragmented,” said Yossi Sarid, a former cabinet minister who now writes a column for the Haaretz newspaper. “He benefits by default.”

The confusion and hopelessness that now characterise the issue of peace with the Palestinians has cost the moderates their historical campaign focus.