Officials in Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s governing coalition slammed him Wednesday for his election campaign, as exit polls and initial results from the vote showed opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc winning a majority of seats in the Knesset.
Sources accused Lapid of failing to properly marshal members of his coalition bloc to achieve the best results for the center-left, and instead focusing on building up his own Yesh Atid party at the expense of two key allies, the left-wing Meretz and Labor parties, which hover dangerously close to the threshold for entry into parliament.
“Lapid acted recklessly, did not manage the bloc, did not take care of the Arabs, did not take care of the surplus agreements,” Channel 12 news quoted an unnamed official as saying. Surplus agreements allow parties that cross the electoral threshold to share votes, potentially adding a seat to one of the parties in the agreement.
“[He] behaved like a cannibalistic pig who tried to eliminate [other parties] in order to be the biggest party, and this is the result,” the official said of Lapid.
As of Wednesday morning, with some 80 percent of the vote counted, Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc was on course to win 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
The Islamist Ra’am party was over the electoral threshold for the first time at five seats according to the count, while Labor was on course to win four.
The left-wing Meretz party is currently a hair short of the 3.25% vote minimum needed to win Knesset representation, with 3.23%, although some pollsters have predicted the party will pass and win four-five seats in the final tally.
The opposition Arab Balad party was also under the threshold with 3.07% of total votes and was deemed highly unlikely to pull through.
If Ra’am, Meretz, or Labor also fail to win Knesset representation, it would cement Netanyahu’s prospects for forming a coalition.
“He [Lapid] wanted to lead the bloc, but didn’t deliver the goods and acted arrogantly throughout [the campaign],” another unnamed official told Ynet.
The official said that while Lapid had claimed he knew how to communicate with the Arab parties, “at the moment of truth everything collapsed, and his big party campaign was also an irresponsible move.”
Others said that Lapid allowed himself to be drawn into Netanyahu’s campaign tactic of making the election a contest between their parties, the two largest in the Knesset, and as a result facilitated the possible failure of Meretz or Labor to cross the threshold.
“Instead of stopping that, he played along and at the moment it looks like Netanyahu succeeded,” a coalition source told Ynet.
Overnight, when it initially seemed more likely that Meretz would clear the threshold, the party’s MK Mossi Raz was conciliatory in tone, noting that Lapid had altered his campaign strategy in the later stages to avoid drawing voters from Meretz or Labor.
Meretz secretary general Tomer Resnick said, “The results according to the polls are not what we expected, at least regarding the bloc. We will wait for the true results.”
Labor maintained silence during the night, with lawmakers reportedly told to not give media interviews.
Neither Labor leader Merav Michaeli or nor Meretz leader Zehava Galon posted any response on Twitter in the hours after exit polls were published with the closing of voting booths at 10 p.m. on Tuesday.
Lapid had lobbied intensively for the two parties to join forces and present a joint slate last month, but Michaeli resisted the alliance with Meretz, which sits further to the left on the political spectrum than her faction.
Should Meretz fail to clear the threshold, Michaeli is expected to face criticism for not agreeing to join forces with the party.
Last week Lapid’s Yeah Atid party reportedly ordered its canvassers to avoid campaigning for support among likely Labor and Meretz party voters after both parties had criticized him over the strategy. Lapid told Israeli media at the time that his party was not trying to take away votes from Meretz and Labor. He claimed that campaigners were instead aimed at winning over what he said were 60,000 voters who are undecided between his camp and parties backing opposition leader Netanyahu.
If Meretz fails to gain 3.25% of the vote, worth four Knesset seats, it will not enter the Knesset for the first time in its 30-year history. Before it joined the current coalition last year, it spent 20 years in the opposition.