Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, who headed Kadima's election campaign, expressed her satisfaction with the results of the TV exit polls and the Ynet-Rafi Smith poll, which predicted a narrow victory for Kadima.
Itzik stated that Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni
"will be Israel's next prime minister."
released an official statement saying that Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu
would be Israel's next prime minister.
"Netanyahu calls on all parties of the national camp to unite under a government headed by him. Netanyahu will also turn to additional Zionist parties in a bid to form a national unity government, as broad as possible, which will lead the State of Israel to a road of security, national pride and hope," the statement said.
According to the Rafi Smith poll, Kadima won 28 Knesset seats, Likud came in second with 26 mandates, Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu won 16 seats, and Labor won 14 mandates.
Likud activists responded with shock to the results, many of them grasping their heads in amazement.
Knesset Member Reuvin Rivlin (Likud) reacted to exit polls by saying, "The Right has the majority in the results for the 18th Knesset and only (Likud Chairman) Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to put together a coalition."
Rivlin added that "despite the disappointment from the results, we need to look at the bright side: The people decided that it's time to change the government and its policies. More than 65 Knesset members don't agree with the current government's way."
Senior Likud members said that "the first and most important move we'll take would be to form an obstructive block with all right-wing parties in order to thwart an attempt by (Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi) Livni to form a government."
The party plans to form the obstructive block as soon as possible by getting Yisrael Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi, Shas and the National Union to support Netanyahu for prime minister.
MK Gilad Erdan added, "The people of Israel decided that they are against the withdrawal policy of Kadima, Meretz and Labor. The rightist bloc had become significantly stronger. Although I would prefer the Likud to have a greater number of seats, there's no doubt the president will task Netanyahu with forming the government, as most Knesset members support the Likud's policy."
Minister Jacob Edery of Kadima said, "The public said unequivocally that Livni should be the one to form the government."
Lior Horev, one of the party's professional advisors, said, "Tzipi Livni will form the next government. Anything else would be against the voter's will. This was the biggest comeback in Israeli politics, and Israeli politics now has a 'comeback lady' who will also be Israel's next prime minister."
Former Israeli Ambassador to the US Daniel Ayalon, No. 7 on Yisrael Beiteinu's Knesset roster, said that the party was not disappointed with the exit poll results. "We are a party with its feet on the ground. It took us 10 years to become the third largest party. We are not a trendy party, but a party that operates."
The Israeli public "said its piece and sent (Labor) to the opposition," Education Minister Yuli Tamir told Ynet, following the publication of exit polls that revealed Labor receiving fewer than 15 mandates.
"We need to respect the public's desire and sit outside the government," she added. Prior to elections, Labor Chairman Ehud Barak said he would not accept a renewed post of defense minister if Labor received fewer than 20 mandates.
Maayan Amodai, chairman of Young Labor, said in response to the results, "This is a harsh blow, but we expected it. The Labor Party must move to the opposition in the next few years."
Meretz Chairman Chaim Oron responded to Tuesday night exit polls and expressed disappointment that his party was expected to receive no more than five mandates."The Left received a harsh blow," he said.
Knesset Member Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) expressed his satisfaction with the exit poll results, saying "I estimate that when we wake up in the morning we'll discover we have five Knesset seats thanks to the religious soldiers and other publics like the Ethiopians which are not expressed in the polls but who support us in masses."
MK Uri Ariel expressed thankfulness that his National Union party had passed the threshold necessary for a party to receive Knesset mandates. "Given the short time we had to prepare, we thank the Lord that we passed the threshold. It's not a failure."
National Union Chairman Yaakov Katz said his party would recommend to the president to task Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu with the establishment of the new government.
"We'll recommend Benjamin Netanyahu, in a bid to form a right-wing government. We'll call the leaders of Habayit Hayehudi to join forces and move forward," said Katz.
Rafi Eitan, chairman of the Pensioners Party, said he has no plans to retire from politics or from the party's chairmanship following the exit poll results, which showed his party did not cross the threshold needed to enter the Knesset.
"The party collapsed because of nonfunctional internal systems and because people who were in it did not view it as a mission," said Eitan.
Amnon Meranda, Attila Somfalvi, Efrat Weiss, Roni Sofer, Yael Branovsky, Eli Senyor, Ronen Medzini and Kobi Nahshoni contributed to this report