Benjamin Netanyahu voting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his vote (Uriel Sinai / pool photo)

We should be careful in assuming Israeli exit polls are any more accurate than American ones. But based on early returns, a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and exit polls, it appears that the combined seats in the Knesset of parties on the Israeli right will barely outnumber those on the left.

Likud has once again won but is expected to do much worse than last time, with center-left parties gaining. Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu bloc is predicted to win 31 seats (down from 42), the centrist Yesh Atid party of Yair Lapid may get 18 or 19, and Labor is likely to get 17 seats. Naftali Bennett’s “Jewish Home” party came in fourth, despite tremendous media buzz.

Josh Block, president of The Israel Project, tells me, “Predictions of Israeli voter apathy and of a rightward shift in the Israeli electorate, both of which reached the status of conventional wisdom on the eve of the election, seem to have been incorrect.” He explained, “The voting, which was marked by near-historic turnout, appears to show an Israeli electorate reflecting a practical centrism: a desire for strong security and peace with Palestinians, a focus on economic issues and needs of the middle class, and a commitment to free markets and religious secularism.”

I suppose the left-wing American critics of the Jewish state have to throw away the script that Israel is a far-right bastion. But we should be careful not to look at this through the prism of U.S. pundits.

A longtime Israel observer puts it this way, “What is important is that the center held in Israel.” He also stressed that the top three vote-getting parties ran not on national security but on “social justice” and economic issues. “That’s because there is agreement on national security,” he explains.

Netanyahu has already said in a statement that he has reached out to Lapid. The Times of Israel reminds us that that a new broader, secular alliance might be just what Netanyahu is looking for: “Netanyahu could theoretically assemble an alliance of almost 70 [members of the Knesset] with Lapid, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua. Such a coalition would be able, for instance, with relative ease, to pass a law mandating military service, and promoting an increased employment rate, among the Haredi population. Perhaps that’s why Netanyahu, despite the reduced strength of his Likud-Beytenu list, is calling the results a ‘great opportunity.’ ”

An old Israel hand suggests that, with Yesh Atid as a coalition partner, Netanyahu may have greater freedom to act with regard to Iran: “Lapid is so new that I really don’t know his foreign policy views, if any. But because he is new he probably won’t resist if Bibi and others say they have to act.” Moreover, Lapid has shown toughness on the “peace process.” He was quoted recently as saying he doesn’t think the Arabs want peace and the left makes a mistake in negotiating over Jerusalem’s final status. Whatever the vote was, it was not for a peacenik foreign policy.

Contrary to President Obama’s obnoxious comment that Israel doesn’t know what is good for it, the Israeli people have spoken. They elected a right-center government that will be tough on Iran and tough on the Palestinians. Maybe we should stop second-guessing the decisions of our democratic ally and see if we can assist them in dismantling the threat of an Iranian nuclear power. That would be novel.