Likud-Beytenu officials struggled to conceal their disappointment as exit polls on Tuesday night gave the party 31 seats, 11 less than the joint party held in the outgoing government. The results were far below expectations, and members of the party saw the outcome as a form of collapse.
Despite the disheartening numbers, senior Likud-Beytenu officials remained optimistic that no candidate other than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be able to form a coalition.
Tzachi Hanegbi, No. 26 on the Likud-Beytenu list, told Israel Radio that he was "very happy with the fact that Netanyahu will remain prime minister for at least another term and that Likud-Beytenu is the largest party in the Knesset by far. The merger with Yisrael Beytenu was a masterstroke, genius. We now have the opportunity to carry out reforms that a wide swath of the country wants. We can get a coalition of 80 MKs and we can equalize the national burden, we can put the peace process back on the agenda, and we can deal with the Iranian threat.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page after polls closed: "I would like to thank the millions of Israeli citizens who exercised their democratic right. According to the exit poll results, it is clear that the people have decided they want me to continue serving as the prime minister of Israel, and I will form the broadest government possible. The emerging results show that a big opportunity exists to make changes that will improve the lives of Israel's citizens. The elections are behind us now, and we have many challenges ahead."
The prime minister said Tuesday night that he had already begun efforts to form the "broadest government" possible.
After the exit polls, Education Minister and Likud-Beytenu's campaign chairman Gideon Sa'ar said, "Likud-Beytenu is the largest party and Benjamin Netanyahu will be the next prime minister. It is clear that the right-wing bloc will have the majority in the next Knesset. We need the broadest government possible to deal with the challenges that lie before us. We will lead Israel in the coming years.
"There is a drive by left-wing parties to prevent the formation of a Netanyahu led government. There will be more attempts by leftist groups to block the prime minister, but those that stay in line can be part of the next government. We will direct all our efforts toward forming as broad a government as possible."
"The right-wing bloc represents the will of the people," Likud MK Danny Danon said. "Once again the Left doesn't comprehend the results of the elections. Netanyahu will be the next prime minister and will form a government while staying true to the principles of the nationalist camp."
Netanyahu can choose between two possible coalitions: one a right-wing bloc without Yesh Atid, the other a government with only Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi. Both would provide him with slightly more than the required 61-seat majority.
Some speculate that Netanyahu will try to mix between the blocs and take both Yesh Atid and the haredi parties, as well as Habayit Hayehudi, and as a result form a coalition with more than 70 MKs. However, it is presumed that for Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to agree to join such a coalition, Netanyahu would need to commit the haredim to signing a new military enlistment law and give Lapid's party some of the biggest ministerial positions in the government.
Meanwhile, Likud members began to brandish knives in light of the disappointing exit polls. Party MKs leveled scathing criticism on the Likud's failed campaign, the campaign's director Gideon Sa'ar, and campaign spokesperson and Environmental Minister Gilad Erdan. Some blamed Netanyahu for his decision to attack Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, a move which proved harmful to the Likud. Among those blamed for the lackluster results was campaign headquarters manager Gil Samsonov.
The question remains whether or not the campaign's failure will influence what ministerial positions Sa'ar and Erdan will receive in the next government. Some analysts believe Sa'ar is next in line to head the Finance Ministry, while Erdan is expected to be the next justice minister.
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney released a statement Tuesday night following the exit polls. He stated that Israel has a "vibrant democracy ... We have to wait and see the makeup of the next Israeli government and how it approaches long-standing, critical issues," among them a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
"The United States remains committed, as it has been for a long time, to working with the parties to press forward the goal of a two-state solution. That has not changed, and it will not change," Carney said.