BREAKING: Stunning comeback for Netanyahu. Surges from 20 to 27-28 seats. But will he return as sole Prime Minister, or will there be a “unity government”?

(Source: Times of Israel, based on exit poll numbers)

(Source: Times of Israel, based on exit poll numbers)

UPDATED AT 12:30am ISRAEL TIME: (Central Israel) — The voting here in Israel ended at 10pm local time on Tuesday (4pm eastern).

The TV network exit polls show a stunning turn of events — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party were down at 20 seats last week, at least four seats behind opposition leader Isaac Herzog, head of the “Zionist Union” party.

Tonight, Netanyahu and his team appear to be at 27 or 28 seats, tied with — or possibly a seat ahead — of Herzog.

If these numbers hold, Netanyahu may have an easier path to put together a governing coalition with center-right parties and return as Prime Minister. However, there is talk that President Reuven Rivlin will insist on a “unity government” where Netanyahu and Herzog would be required to share power and govern together, rather than Netanyahu serving as the sole premier.

It’s too soon to know exactly how this will play out. The process of building a governing coalition in Israel is complicated and often very messy and not easily predicted. There could be lots of twists and turns in the saga in the coming days and weeks.

Still, the early evidence tonight points to dramatic comeback by Netanyahu, one that seems to put him in a better position to building a majority coalition.

President Obama and his political operatives did everything possible to unseat Netanyahu. It does not seem to have worked.

Given how cold President Obama has been towards Netanyahu, expect the deep freeze to get worse in the next two years if Netanyahu is the sole PM. The President’s approach towards Israel could get far uglier than it even has been thus far, especially since Mr. Obama will never face voters again.

More analysis tomorrow. Now it is well past midnight.

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