AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Israelis have voted again, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have edged closer to winning a fourth straight term. But it appears to be close, and his challenger has not conceded. After all, this was the third parliamentary election in a year after two others ended in a stalemate.
NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Jerusalem. Hey, Daniel.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi.
CHANG: All right. So what is the latest on this very complicated election?
ESTRIN: Well, the race is not over yet. The exit polls suggest that Netanyahu's centrist rival, Benny Gantz, is significantly behind Netanyahu. Netanyahu, according to these polls, could be just one or two seats away from having a majority control in parliament and declaring victory. However, the votes are still being tallied. It's a very close race. The key question here is, will Netanyahu have the majority control in parliament that he needs, or will be - will there be more deadlock?
CHANG: Right. So one seat either way or a few seats either way could be decisive at this point, right?
CHANG: OK. So you've been talking to voters. Are they getting a little tired of these repeated elections?
ESTRIN: Well, they are, but you know what, Ailsa? Voter turnout actually increased this time. This is a drama that voters wanted to be a part of. I met people who voted for Netanyahu who said, yes, we think he has been in office for too long - more than a decade. But they felt in their gut that there was no better alternative. And then I met voters for Gantz who supported him - to paraphrase a popular Israeli expression - not necessarily out of love for Gantz but out of hatred for Bibi Netanyahu. Gantz had been their one hope of defeating Netanyahu. And listen to one of his voters, Gabriela David (ph).
GABRIELA DAVID: It will be still Bibi hanging to his seat with all his might and all his intelligence and all his experience and all his madness. He is very, very sure of himself. I don't see that assurance in Gantz. I wish he would have it, too, a little more.
ESTRIN: She voted for Gantz, but she thought maybe he didn't have it in him to beat Netanyahu.
CHANG: All right. So I understand the two main candidates, Gantz and Netanyahu, have spoken tonight. What have they said?
ESTRIN: Right. Well, Netanyahu spoke to a cheering crowd. He said he and the right wing have won an enormous victory. He said he would be everyone's prime minister, even if they didn't vote for him. He promised more peace treaties for Israel with Arab and Muslim countries. He even boasted about his policy to try to contain coronavirus in Israel - completely elated. Gantz, however, spoke to his supporters. He said the results are not what he had hoped for, but he has not conceded defeat yet.
CHANG: All right. So once the results are in, what happens next logistically over there?
ESTRIN: Well, the votes are still being counted. The question will be, will there still be the same political deadlock that we saw in the last two elections? Gantz says that is still a possibility. And then the next thing on the calendar - March 17, Netanyahu is scheduled to appear in court. His corruption trial is set to begin. And if Netanyahu does win another term as prime minister, as he's promising, Israel will find itself in an unprecedented situation. He'll be fighting to clear his name in court while, if he wins, being the head of the government.
CHANG: All right. That is NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.
Thank you, Daniel.
ESTRIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.