With 97% of the votes counted, here are Israel’s election results, indicating the number of Knesset seats each party won:
Likud (Netanyahu) – 35
Blue White (Gantz) – 35
Shas (Ultra Orthodox) – 8
UTJ (Ultra Orthodox) – 8
Hadash-Ta’al (Left) – 6
Labor (Left) – 6
Yisrael Beytenu (Right) – 5
United Right – 5
Kulanu (Right) – 4
Meretz (Left) – 4
Ra’am-Balad (Arab) – 4
The New Right, led by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked fell just over 4,000 votes short of crossing the 3.25% vote threshold, which means they get 0 seats. However, there are still around 200,000 votes (3%) that have yet to be counted. They are expected to be counted sometime on Thursday. These votes, cast by IDF soldiers, police officers, diplomats and their families, prisoners and hospital patients and staff, could potentially push the New Right over the threshold, giving them 4 seats. The votes could also push the Arab party or Meretz below the threshold and out of the Knesset.
So while the final standings are not yet final, the overall outcome is clearly a big win for Likud, Netanyahu and the right wing, which holds a 65 seat majority.
The clear majority of the country’s Jewish voters voted to the right. But they did not vote for the more extreme right wing parties, as is evident from the New Right’s inability to (at least for now) cross the threshold, and the United Right’s 5 seats. Had Bennett and Shaked not broken away from their Jewish Home party to start their own party, their combined block would probably have close to 10 votes. But that didn’t happen.
In order to form a governing coalition, PM Netanyahu will have to cater to his smaller partners. For the most part, these partners are more focused on domestic and economic issues rather than foreign policy and the peace process.
The Ultra Orthodox parties, which make up the third largest Knesset block with 16 seats, are primarily concerned with religious issues, financial aid and draft exemptions. Kulanu is also focused on domestic and economic issues. They are moderate on foreign policy. While Yisrael Beytenu is tough on security issues, its policies are not based on ideology.
What all that means is that PM Netanyahu will not be forced to make ideologically based policy decisions such as annexing territory (even though he promised to do just that), which would most likely put him at odds with the soon to be released Trump peace plan. As long as the PM gives his more moderate partners what they want domestically, he should have free rein over foreign policy and security.
Once all the votes are counted and President Rivlin directs Netanyahu to form a new government, the horse trading will begin with the prizes being ministerial portfolios. The religious parties will most likely be happy with the Interior Ministry and the Health Ministry, which they held in the previous government. Kulanu, with Moshe Kahlon, will probably want the Finance Ministry again. The big prizes of the Foreign and Defense Ministries will most likely remain within Likud, unless Netanyahu decides to hold on to one for himself.
Let the games begin.