Prime Minister Netanyahu appears likely to get one more turn heading an Israeli Government based on the results of yesterday’s election. The key questions which were anticipated even before the votes were counted were with whom would he be partnering in the coalition and for how long will this new Government last. At this point the answer to the first question is very much in flux and the second one could well be not for too long.
The Israeli electorate made a number of statements yesterday but the most obvious one is that they want a more moderate and centrist Government. While HaBayit HaYehudi did well obtaining 11 seats, it did not get the 14-16 seats that some thought they might receive. The decline in the Netanyahu-Lieberman joint ticket from 42 seats to 31 confirmed the trend that pollsters had predicted. It also indicated that while some voters went to the even more right wing HaBayit HaYehudi, some also went to the center left party. These voters bolstered the Yesh Atid party of the political novice Yair Lapid to that of the leading opposition party with 19 seats, ahead of Labor which only received 15 seats. (As has been mentioned here before, it seems that the joint Likud-Beitenu ticket lost much of its Beitenu faction as Avigdor Lieberman faded out of the campaign limelight; presumably because many people assume that he shortly will be out of politics and spending much of his time defending himself in Court.)
For Netanyahu the decision as to whether to bring into his Government Lapid will hinge on how he approaches the haredim and how he addresses any future negotiations with the Palestinians. Bibi may well be able to appease Lapid with some type of more assertive approach to bring the haredim at least into national service. It is unclear, however, whether Naphtali Bennett and HaBayit HaYehudi will swallow negotiating with the Palestinians. Even more problematic for Bibi than Bennett may well be whether he will be able to persuade the hardliners within his own Likud Party to do so.
Finally, the Israeli electorate moved inward towards some of the country’s internal problems, not focusing on settlements. It wanted the economic gap addressed; the budget deficit resolved; and progress made in the conflict between the religious and the secular. Iran, terrorism, and the Palestinians are a reality, but they wanted a less militant approach here as well. It will remain to be seen if Bibi wants to respond to the public will, whether he can compose a coalition that will move in that direction, and whether he, himself, is capable of taking bold political steps which could cost him his leadership.