The official-official announcement won’t be made until Thursday morning, but Israel has released what are basically the final counts for Tuesday’s election, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party doing far better than projected, and winning a significant plurality with 30 seats.
Since Netanyahu took a dramatic right-ward shift in the last days of the campaign, bashing peace talks and ruling out Palestinian statehood, much of his surprise boost came from far-right parties that would’ve been part of his coalition effort anyhow, like Jewish Home which came in far below what the last polls were showing.
That means Netanyahu might not be in much better of a position to form a government than he was in the first place, though the plurality certainly will give him an easier time claiming a mandate to rule.
Still, getting to 60 seats isn’t going to be easy for him, having alienated so many of the other parties on the campaign trail. That and the reality that many of the right-wing bloc don’t really coexist well with one another in a government could seriously hamper that.
The normal right-far-right allies would be Jewish Home, Shas, UTJ, and Yisrael Beiteinu, which combined only gives Netanyahu another 27 seats, 3 short of a majority. Even that is going to be like pulling teeth, since Yisrael Beiteinu is secular and has long clashed with the ultra-orthodox Shas and UTJ.
Where would those extras come from? There are two serious possibilities. Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party is a split off from Likud, and could be a fit. He’s presented himself as a centrist peace candidate, however, which doesn’t jibe with Netanyahu’s rhetoric, and election-day scandals where Likud was doctoring recordings of Kahlon trying to spin him as an ally got them a fine, and likely some acrimony.
The other possibility would be Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, despite an ugly breakup of the last coalition government in which his party was among the dissenters. The big obstacle here is that Yesh Atid is also deeply secular. This would almost guarantee a government that’s not going to last.
President Reuven Rivlin has been pushing for a unity government, Likud with Zionist Union and some hangers on to make a coalition. That seems unlikely, as Netanyahu’s campaign basically portrayed the center-left list as traitors during the last few days of the election, and their pro-peace policies seem even less likely to coexist with Netanyahu than the other options.
Assuming a majority government is possible at all, the path of least resistance might well still be a left-center-left coalition with Kulanu coming along for the ride. This would mean the Zionist Union successfully courting the Arab joint list, Yesh Atid, Kulanu, and Meretz.