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Under that scenario, Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich could end up as prime minister. The former radio journalist who once backed Israel’s Communist Party campaigned on a promise to narrow the gap between rich and poor, and has said she will not sit in a Netanyahu government.

But such an outcome appears unlikely.

In all, candidates from 32 parties were running. Israel historically has had multiparty governments because no party has ever won an outright majority in the country’s 64-year history.

In a sign of the times, many Israelis advertised their voting choice by photographing their completed ballot and uploading it to Facebook.

If victorious, Mr. Netanyahu is expected to reach across the aisle and court at least one of the more-centrist parties. This would reduce his reliance on the hard-liners and present a more palatable face to the outside world.

It remains unclear whether he would be able to do so, as it would require concessions on key economic or political issues that would alienate his core supporters.

A shift by Mr. Netanyahu away from his tough line toward the Palestinians appears unlikely. Mr. Netanyahu himself has only grudgingly voiced conditional support for a Palestinian state, and his own party now is dominated by hard-liners who oppose even this.

Likud primaries robbed the party of its most moderate figures, and up to one-sixth of the incoming legislature is expected to be settlers who advocate holding on to captured land that Palestinians want for a future state. That could translate into a more hawkish government.

A likely coalition partner, Naftali Bennett of the surging Jewish Home Party, has even called for annexing large parts of the West Bank, the core of any future Palestinian state.