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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.

Go deeper

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Updated 5 mins ago - Economy & Business

How central banks can save the world

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The trillion-dollar gap between actual GDP and potential GDP is a gap made up of misery, unemployment, and unfulfilled promise. It's also a gap that can be eradicated — if central banks embrace unconventional monetary policy.

  • That's the message from Eric Lonergan and Megan Greene, two economists who reject the idea that central banks have hit a "lower bound" on interest rates. In fact, they reject the idea that "interest rates" are a singular thing at all, and they fullthroatedly reject the idea — most recently put forward by New York Fed president Bill Dudley — that the Fed is "out of firepower."

Why it matters: If Lonergan and Greene are right, then central banks have effectively unlimited ammunition in their fight to increase inflation and employment. They are limited only by political will.

Updated 24 mins ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Large coronavirus outbreaks leading to high death rates — Coronavirus cases are at an all-time high ahead of Election Day — Fauci says U.S. may not return to normal until 2022
  2. Politics: Top HHS spokesperson pitched coronavirus ad campaign as "helping the president" — Space Force's No. 2 general tests positive for coronavirus
  3. World: Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases — Europe faces "stronger and deadlier" wave France imposes lockdown Germany to close bars and restaurants for a month.
  4. Sports: Boston Marathon delayed MLB to investigate Dodgers player who joined celebration after positive COVID test.
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3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Leon Black says he "made a terrible mistake" doing business with Jeffrey Epstein

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Rick Friedman/Corbis/Getty Images

Apollo Global Management CEO Leon Black on Thursday said during an earnings call that he made a "terrible mistake" by employing Jeffrey Epstein to work on personal financial and philanthropic services.

Why it matters: Apollo is one of the world's largest private equity firms, and already has lost at least one major client over Black's involvement with Epstein.