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Israel elections: Netanyahu wins, but loses ground

Exit polls from Israel's general election show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party performing worse than expected, losing ground to a centrist party led by Yair Lapid.

Israelis were expected to vote conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party to a third term Tuesday. But exit polls show Netanyahu's party may have performed worse than expected.

The New York Times said that while it's likely Netanyahu will serve a third term, right-wing Likud lost ground to a centrist party that had a surprise surge, according to exit polls.

Likud and its ultra-nationalist partner Yisrael Beiteinu were projected to win 30 or 31 of the Knesset's 120 seats, with the centrist There is a Future party taking 18 seats.

The left-leaning Labor party looked set to win 17 seats, according to the exit polls.

At around 8 p.m., Netanyahu made a last-minute appeal to his supporters via Facebook: "The Likud leadership is in danger. I ask you to leave everything and go out now to vote. This is very important to guarantee the future of the state of Israel."

As the Wall Street Journal put it, "Netanyahu's campaign is limping to the finish line."

Earlier, it was thought that Likud-Beitenu would lose seats to the far-right Jewish Home party led by the charismatic Naftali Bennett, according to opinion polls. Some speculated Jewish Home would win 13 or 14 seats in the Knesset.

The New York Times pointed out that polls showed Likud might have lost between seven and 10 seats to Jewish Home.

Jewish Home party representative Jeremy Gimpel recently told a crowd, "We absolutely oppose a Palestinian state in the land of Judea and Samaria."

As Reuters succinctly put it, the election is expected to push Israel "away from peace with the Palestinians and towards a showdown with Iran."

More for GlobalPost: Your guide to the Israeli elections (PHOTOS)

"We want Israel to succeed, we vote Likud-Beitenu," Netanyahu said after voting. "The bigger it is, the more Israel will succeed."

Netanyahu has often said he intends to focus on Iran and its suspected nuclear weapons program. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful, energy-related purposes.

"Israel’s middle class wasn’t asleep as people assumed. The embers of the social protest are still strong," Marcus Sheff, executive director of The Israel Project, an advocacy group, told The Times.

Already, voter turnout is on its way to a historical high, according to a chart comparing the last three general elections tweeted by +972 Magazine. Notice that 2013 numbers are highest at every measured hour: 

turnout-chart1-openz

The final election results are due Wednesday morning. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/israel-and-palestine/130122/israel-likely-re-elect-netanyahu-reduc