Israel's polls have officially closed, and Israeli citizens and overseas pundits are now waiting for the final results. Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and challenger Isaac Herzog's Zionist Union are the two frontrunners in the too-close-to-call election. But regardless of who comes out on top, what will be the same are the challenges facing the new prime minister of Israel. So what happens next for the country considered one of America's most important allies?
Exit polls showed Likud and Zionist Union tied at 27 seats a piece, according to Israeli TV news stations Channel 10 and Channel 1. Channel 2 showed Likud ahead by one at 28 seats. No party is expected to gain the required 61-seat majority in Parliament and will have to negotiate with smaller parties to build a coalition government. Election day is a national holiday in Israel, and voter turnout was expected to be high. An estimated 71.8 percent of Israel's nearly 6 million eligible citizens voted, a 4 percent increase from the 2013 elections, tweeted Deputy Editor Amichai Stein of Channel 1.
The high-profile candidates and tight race have made Israel's election one to watch, and you can be sure that Americans are keeping a close eye on who emerges victorious. Whether or not Israel has more years of Netanyahu — though Bibi has already declared himself the winner on Twitter — the country's problems will be the same and all that remains to be seen is what approach will be taken in the coming years.
The Economy And High Living Costs
In this election, Israelis' biggest concern isn't peace — it's the high cost of living, according to Reuters. The Israeli government recently released a report showing that housing prices have jumped 55 percent between 2008 and 2014. Food prices have also risen, which in 2011 prompted numerous "cottage cheese" protests, named after the Israeli food staple. The struggling economy has been a pillar for Herzog's platform. The Zionist Union leader pledged around $1.75 billion to create affordable housing, health care, and other social programs for the middle class. For Netanyahu, the economy has been less of an issue.
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Hamas is still militarized, Gaza is still vulnerable to violence, and Palestine is still a tough topic. Palestinians, or Israeli Arabs, make up roughly one-fifth of the country's population. Last April, the Israeli government halted peace talks after Palestine formed a unity government with Hamas, whom Israel and the United States view as a terrorist group. In the final stretch before the election, Netanyahu said on Monday he would not allow an independent Palestinian state to form under his leadership. That same day, Herzog said he believed creating a Palestinian state was in the "best interests of Israel" but was uncertain whether the country would see results.
Iran And The Nuclear Threat
A relationship buoyed by mutual necessity rather than kinship — that's how you would describe Obama and Netanyahu's history. (The uncomfortable photo-ops don't help either.) Netanyahu's appearance at Congress earlier this month was the latest low between the two leaders, and the Iranian nuclear deal is just another indicator of the United States and Israel's strained relations. While we can expect the same from Netanyahu should he be elected prime minister, Herzog has said he intends to repair trust and intimacy between the two countries.
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