After the exit polls rolled in, Netanyahu thanked Israelis on Facebook for his showing and indicated that he wants to "a very wide government" as the hard work of coalition building begins on Wednesday.
"The (election) results observed are a great opportunity for many changes for the benefit of all citizens of Israel. The complications ahead of us are many and wide, as from tonight I will start my efforts to form a very wide government as possible."
Michael Singh, managing director at the Washington institute, said the result reflects polarized politics in Israel. The immediate consequences of the result is that coalition building will be quite difficult and time-consuming, he said.
The worst-case scenario would be government paralysis and maybe another election sooner rather than later. While he said it's possible that a centrist coalition led by Yesh Atid, which means "there is a future," and Labor could emerge, Singh thinks Netanyahu and Lapid will form a government.
Likud celebrated after the results came in. Danny Danon, a Likud party member expected to serve in the next Knesset, was asked why the Israeli-Palestinian peace process hasn't been front and center in the campaign.
Both talks and the issue of Iran were not as prominent among factors as expected by many observers. Domestic issues, in contrast, played a large role in the campaign.
Israel has no partner among Palestinians, Danon said, and noted that peace initiatives have been tried but haven't borne fruit. He cited the situation in Gaza, where militants fire missiles into Israel despite the country's departure from that Palestinian territory. Israel launched an offensive against Palestinian militants in Gaza last year after enduring missile fire on its territory.
The next government, he said, will reach out to Palestinians "but will also continue to make sure Israelis are strong and safe."
Israel doesn't "want to see an al Qaeda state in our backyard," Danon said.
Makovsky said the election is good news for the Obama administration, which has had prickly relations with the right-wing Netanyahu government. It comes after a high turnout -- the percentage of eligible voters who cast a vote was 66.6%, just 1% more than the 2009 election.
"It's unclear if Netanyahu wanted a pure right-wing option in the first place," he said.
"But Washington can breathe a sigh of relief that Netanyahu will need to reach accommodation with some parties at the center of the map who essentially would like to see progress on the Palestinian issue as well as on economic issues."