Netanyahu campaigns in Tel Aviv, Feb. 29. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party is projected to win the most seats in Israel's election, according to exit polls. All three updated polls show his right-wing bloc with 59 seats, two short of a majority.

Why it matters: The exit polls are not official results, but they project a strong performance from Netanyahu in Israel's third elections in 10 months despite a looming corruption trial. Both Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, his centrist rival, failed to form coalition governments following elections in April and September.

  • Both Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, his centrist rival, failed to form coalition governments following elections in April and September.
  • Netanyahu has vowed to annex parts of the West Bank within weeks if elected.

By the numbers: All three exit polls show Netanyahu's Likud party winning 36–37 seats, to 32–34 for Gantz's Blue and White.

  • All three show Netanyahu's right-wing bloc with 59 seats and Gantz's center-left bloc with 52-54.
  • The remaining seats go to Avigdor Lieberman's nonaligned party. Lieberman has resisted calls to line up alongside Netanyahu, but could possibly stand aside to allow a minority government.

Where things stand: There were no signs of voter fatigue in this rerun election. Turnout was 71%, an increase from the past two contests.

  • This is a remarkable turnaround for Israel's longest-serving prime minister, and it likely means the political obituaries that had been in progress will be shelved for now.
  • Despite three indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, millions of Israelis continue to put their faith in Netanyahu.
  • But if he doesn't manage to cobble together 61 seats the political deadlock could continue — and another election could be just months away.

What they're saying: Gantz said he wanted to wait for the final results, but that no matter what happens Netanyahu is about to go on trial.

  • "The verdict for criminal charges is only determined in court," he said.
  • He said tonight's result would not get Israel back on track.

What to watch: Netanyahu has stayed on as caretaker prime minister during the current political deadlock, but he hopes for a new government backed by a right-wing bloc with at least 61 seats.

  • That coalition could disrupt the legal proceedings against him, or at least allow him to continue as prime minister during the trial, which begins March 17.
  • Gantz has ruled out a unity government, citing Netanyahu's trial.
  • If Netanyahu again fails to form a government, Israel could be forced into yet another election in the coming months.
  • Netanyahu has vowed to annex parts of the West Bank within weeks if elected.

The backstory: Likud recently took a narrow lead in opinion polls ahead of Blue and White, which had previously led most polls since September.

  • Netanyahu's recent trips to Washington, for the unveiling of President Trump's peace plan, and Moscow, to secure the release of an Israeli woman held on drug charges, helped boost the prime minister's image as a foreign policy maestro.
  • At the same time, Netanyahu ended his quest for parliamentary immunity from the three corruption indictments against him. That kept Gantz from centering his campaign around Netanyahu's immunity hearings.

The bottom line: No Israeli prime minister has governed while defending himself against criminal charges. But to paraphrase Netanyahu's campaign slogan, there’s no one else like him.

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