Polls Have Closed In Israel — Here's What The Country's Election Day Shows So Far
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Polls have closed in Israel, where the country is electing a new Parliament, which will choose the next prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fourth consecutive term after already serving a decade in office. He's ruled with what's perhaps the most right-wing coalition in Israeli history. His main challenger is a retired general who says Israel needs a unifying leader and cleaner government. Both have spoken tonight claiming victory. It's still too close to call with any certainty, but two Israeli TV stations have predicted a Netanyahu victory.
NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Jerusalem. Hey, Daniel.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi.
CHANG: So what did the two candidates say tonight?
ESTRIN: Well, early in the night, Benny Gantz, Netanyahu's challenger, stood before his supporters, and he declared victory. He said he was going to wait for the final results but that he would lead a discourse of unity in the country as the next prime minister. But then a couple hours later, Israeli TV stations, as you said, were predicting a slight lead for Netanyahu's party. And the actual vote count was looking that way as well. And even though it's not the final results, Netanyahu came to greet his supporters in Tel Aviv. He gave a victory speech. And here's what it sounded like when he came into the hall.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED SUPPORTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).
ESTRIN: So his supporters were chanting, he's a magician, over and over. He said he was waiting for the final results as well, but he called it a night of incredible, incredible victory. He vowed to form a right-wing government and to make Israel one of the strongest countries in the world. And he said he already began calling right-wing parties to try to form a government. But again, this is still not final.
ESTRIN: No final results yet.
CHANG: And Gantz has not conceded.
ESTRIN: Not yet.
CHANG: Well, I know that you've been walking around today, talking to voters. What kind of trends have you been noticing as you talk to them?
ESTRIN: I heard a lot of very different voices, but I heard something very interesting, which was that the people who were voting for Gantz, the main centrist candidate, tended to be older voters who were not really enthused about him. But they wanted to replace Netanyahu. Take a listen to 72-year-old voter Tzipi Mismoor (ph). Here's what she said about Benny Gantz.
TZIPI MISMOOR: He's not very clever, unfortunately. But maybe it's the only way to take Netanyahu down - maybe. I don't think so but maybe.
ESTRIN: And I heard that a lot from Gantz's voters. Contrast that with one woman, a 20-year-old soldier named Roni (ph), who was very excited about Netanyahu.
RONI: His relationships with the world, the way that he got Trump to get onboard with Israel, Russia - nobody has ever done this before - just that he's an amazing person. And that's it.
ESTRIN: So to sum up, Gantz's voters who I met tended to be older. And a lot of younger voters went for Netanyahu.
CHANG: So when these two candidates were closing their campaigns, what were their final arguments?
ESTRIN: Netanyahu made this very last-minute pledge that if he gets re-elected, he will annex all Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. And that would be a very dramatic move. It could make it very, very hard for Israel to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. It was an attempt by Netanyahu to consolidate right-wing votes right before the elections. And Gantz's closing argument was, we are on the brink of winning, and we are the alternative for ending Netanyahu's decade in power.
CHANG: And when do we expect the results to come in?
ESTRIN: The votes are going to be counted all night here, and it's still close. But what will now happen is that there's going to be several days and longer of haggling. The parties meet with the president, and the president gets to decide which candidate has the best chances of forming a majority coalition.
CHANG: Still more to come. That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Thanks, Daniel.
ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.