JERUSALEM (AP) - In a stunning setback, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-line bloc fared worse than expected in a parliamentary election Tuesday, exit polls showed, possibly forcing the incumbent Israeli leader to invite surprisingly strong moderate rivals into his government and soften his line toward the Palestinians.
TV exit polls showed the hard-liners with about 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament, a bare majority, and the counts could change as actual votes are tallied.
The unofficial TV results had Netanyahu winning only 31 seats, though he combined his Likud Party with the far-right Yisrael Beitenu for the voting. Running separately four years ago, the two won 42 seats. He expected to increase that total by running together, but the combined list's poll results dipped steadily throughout the three-month campaign.
Netanyahu was also expected to receive stronger backing because his fragmented opposition did not post an agreed candidate against him.
If they hold up through the actual vote counting, the unexpected results could be seen a setback for Netanyahu's tough policies. The coalition-building process could force him to promise concessions to restart long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.
Addressing cheering supporters early Wednesday, Netanyahu pledged to work for a broad-based government. Also he said, he would show "responsibility in striving for a genuine peace."
Netanyahu made a quick phone call to a newcomer on Israel's political stage, Yair Lapid, whose centrist party debuted with a strong showing of 19 seats, making it the second-largest party after Netanyahu's.