The results, after more than 99% of the votes were counted:
Kadima - 28 Knesset seats
Labor - 20
Shas - 13
Yisrael Beiteinu - 12
Likud - 11
Arab parties - 10
NU/NRP - 9
Pensioner - 7
United Torah Judaism - 6
Based on past experience, these results might change slightly following the counting of special votes and the final distribution of the Knesset mandates. The votes to be counted last include those of the military, the hospital-bound, and the former Gush Katif residents, whose votes must be placed in double-envelopes and compared with national lists to ensure that they did not vote twice. The counting of these votes often causes changes in the final counts that benefit right-wing parties.
Kadima's Ehud Olmert is likely to be called upon to form the next government, as his party won more seats than any other. Only once before in Israeli history has a smaller party formed a government - in 1999 - and it lasted only 18 months. This occurred when Ehud Barak turned Labor into the One Israel party, led it to victory with 26 seats, but was forced to resign as Prime Minister Dec. 2000 and call new elections after only a year and a half in office.
Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu said last night he would remain as party head and work to reform the party despite the “harsh blow” it was dealt at the polls. Netanyahu laid partial blame for his party's collapse at comatose Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s doorstep, saying that “Sharon left us with a broken party” when he split off to form the victorious Kadima faction.
Netanyahu held a brief consultation with his party faction, at which Silvan Shalom, Limor Livnat, Danny Naveh and Yisrael Katz were not present - signaling a likely attempt to unseat him in favor of Shalom.
Likud MK Michael Eitan said of his party’s decline, "There is no doubt that we deserved a punishment, though I believe that the punishment was a bit too harsh. For one thing, the Central Committee was identified with corruption - sometimes unjustly. Also, we had a big split... Third, the Likud zig-zagged, and the public doesn't like that…Many of the Likudniks remained in the party, but merely stayed home; we see that in the low voter turnout in the Likud strongholds."
Meanwhile, the Labor Party, buoyed by preliminary reports that it had received 22 seats, celebrated the results. By this morning, the joy had become more muted, when it became known that the final result was only 20. Laborites were also happy that Kadima had received only 2/3 of the seats that had originally been predicted for it. MK Danny Yatom (Labor) said the results are a "great blow to Kadima, and bring great joy to Labor."
Rafi Eitan, head of the Pensioners Party, expressed great joy at his party's success. A former Israeli intelligence officer, and the recruiter and handler of imprisoned spy Jonathan Pollard, he said last month that if elected to the Knesset, he would work for Pollard's release. Pollard, however, blames Eitan for keeping him out of the Israeli Embassy in Washington and his capture by US authorities. "I think it is important that people understand that [Eitan] was the one who failed to provide an escape plan for me," Pollard said. "He was the one who was at the heart of my expulsion from the embassy, I believe."
Asked after the election to present his views on the diplomatic situation or on which government he would prefer to sit in, Eitan simply said, "Any leader is acceptable to us, as long as he accepts our demands. We will study the situation and present our positions."
Members of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, headed by Avigdor Lieberman, were not surprised by their positive showing, which surpassed the Likud Party in terms of mandates. "We have become the largest party in the national camp," Lieberman told his joyous supporters, "and I'm certain that next time we will be Israel's ruling party. This is only the beginning.” He spoke when some polls predicted he had won 15 seats - a total which has since leveled out at 11.
Haaretz commentator Ari Shavit said, "Ehud Olmert did not receive a mandate to carry out a unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria. [His likely coalition partners] Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas are clearly against such a move."
Shimon Peres of Kadima, though, announced after the polls closed that the future coalition will promote the "turning inward" plan – Olmert's euphemism for future unilateral withdrawals, forced evictions, and convergence upon two or three large settlement blocs.
Olmert made his acceptance speech after visiting the Western Wall, saying, "A chapter in the history of the country has ended. We're charged with shaping the future of the State, and before we bring peace with our neighbors we must make peace within – with patience and with love."
Though Kadima performed much worse than all polls projected and is the second-smallest party to ever enjoy the status of the largest Knesset party, Olmert said it received a mandate for its vision. "The people have spoken clearly, they want Kadima," Olmert boomed, adding that the dream of the Greater Land of Israel must be repudiated “and Jews, with much pain, must be evacuated.”
Olmert also thanked “our prime minister, Ariel Sharon.” Olmert donned a skullcap at the end of his speech and recited the traditional Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel.
As predicted by the surveys of the past few months, the anti-religious Shinui party will not be present in the upcoming 17th Knesset. A statement from the party expressed its disappointment but promised, “Shinui was established 30 years ago, and will continue to exist for at least 30 more years."
The Hazit-Jewish National Front party of Baruch Marzel fell far short of the minimum threshold of over 60,000 votes, receiving only some 24,000. Marzel said that the entire right-wing and Yesha leadership must be replaced.
The combined Arab parties received 10 mandates - four for the Ra'am party, three for Balad and three for Hadash. Balad, however, is on the verge of losing a seat, depending on the results of the as-yet uncounted votes.
Likud MK Yuval Shteinitz attacked the NRP/NU, which received 9 seats, for campaigning against the Likud and thereby shifting voters towards Kadima.
(Photos: Josh Shamsi, Arutz-7 Photojournalist)