The exact composition of the next Israeli government remains unclear, but that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is returning for a fourth term seems no longer in doubt, as Isaac Herzog, his primary competitor, has resigned himself to the opposition.
Netanyahu shifted his campaign strategy dramatically in the final days before the Tuesday vote, ruling out Palestinian statehood and accusing the center-left Zionist Union of being part of an international plot to destroy Israel. He also promised tens of thousands of new settlement homes in occupied East Jerusalem to ensure the Palestinians could never have a state.
While Likud came in first place and will government, parties 2-4 on the list all seem headed to the opposition, with Yesh Atid’s leader Yair Lapid confirming he hasn’t spoken to Netanyahu about joining a coalition.
Which is unsurprising. Lapid was the moderate side of the last far-right government, and didn’t coexist well with the hawkish leadership. With Netanyahu signaling a dramatic rightward shift, Lapid would fit in even less.
Rather, the entire focus for Likud seems to be getting Kulanu, a new party split off from Likud, on board along with the various religious right parties. Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon has made clear he wants the finance ministry, Lapid’s old position, and while he campaigned as a center-right peace candidate, seems none too interested in foreign policy.
Likud, Kulanu, Jewish Home, Shas, and UTJ would by itself be 61 seats, just enough for a majority. Yisrael Beiteinu is the wildcard here, as outgoing Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman continues to demand the defense ministry as a condition for joining.
Likud is dismissing that, however, noting they don’t even really need Lieberman in the first place, and his poor election showing wouldn’t make such a demand at all reasonable.
Whether Lieberman ends up in the coalition at all depends on how much crow he’s willing to eat. Fighting over ministries is sure to continue for weeks, but for now Likud is insisting Moshe Ya’alon will retain the defense portfolio, and the indications are Likud will probably try to get the foreign ministry as well.
While the Zionist Union could’ve conceivably courted Kulanu for a center-left coalition of their own, it seems that no serious attempt was made to do so, likely because this would require making the Arab List, the third largest pluraltiy, a partner with significant power. Even among more reform-minded Israelis, Arabs in positions of serious power likely remains a red line.