When the polls in Israel closed at 10 PM on Tuesday, the air was fraught with tensions. Various exit polls, notoriously unreliable in any event, were providing such disparate results that there was little clarity on what the outcome would be.
The count was announced early in the morning on Wednesday, and Netanyahu had his triumph. Times of Israel editor David Horovitz ‒ definitely no Bibi fan ‒ put it thus:
“In the end, the combined might of three former Israeli army chiefs proved no match for the political will of Benjamin Netanyahu.
“A divisive force of nature who commandeered the airwaves, took over the vegetable markets, monopolized social media and even called potential voters out of the sea at Netanya beach on election day, Netanyahu simply refused to be beaten.
Netanyahu rejoiced, and rightly so, as it became clear that he was about to enter his fifth term as prime minister (fourth consecutive term, with one earlier, 1996-99).
At that point, it appeared that both Likud and Blue and White had garnered 35 mandates. The victory was in the strength of the right wing bloc: Netanyahu would be able to establish a coalition, whereas it would be impossible for Gantz to do so.
Gantz, in a move both bewildering and premature, rushed to declare that Blue and White had achieved a great victory. It didn’t take long for him to regret that impulsivity, and during the day on Wednesday, he conceded the race.
His concession speech was gracious:
“We respect the decision of the people,”
he declared, expressing pride that,
“We reached an extraordinary result. Over a million people chose a ballot slip of a faction they did not know existed 10 weeks ago.”
Yair Lapid, who had founded the Yesh Atid party and merged with Gantz for this election, was another story, however.
Declaring that he wasn’t just going into the opposition, he said that he planned to turn the Knesset into a “battleground,” and embitter the lives of the prime minister and the members of his government.
Charming man. He has provided us with one more reason to be grateful that Blue and White did not win the election.
My favorite comment in response to Lapid’s threat came from MK Avi Dichter (Likud):
“Yair Lapid promised to embitter life for us in the Knesset, and I think it’s good news: We’ll finally see him in the Knesset.”
Lapid is frequently absent from the Knesset without cause.
For all Lapid’s bombast, there is speculation as to how long Blue and White will hang together now before disintegrating. Before he entered politics in 2012, he was a TV personality.
The election results, as announced on Wednesday, included a number of surprises:
Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party had been predicted to garner as many as six or seven mandates: an over-confident Feiglin had already let it be known before the election what demands he intended to make for his participation in a coalition. Zehut, however, did not pass the threshold. According to the numbers, he wasn’t even close.
On the other hand, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party, which many polls had predicted would not pass the threshold, did very nicely.
Lesson: Do not trust the polls.
Feiglin had been so confident of electoral success that he chose not to merge his list with another party for the election; had he done so, he might have been headed for the Knesset now. As it is, the votes cast for him are simply lost. Unfortunate, but this is how our system works.
Feiglin says he will continue on with Zehut efforts in the future.
The Union of the Right (Bayit Yehudi, headed by Rafi Peretz and National Union, headed by MK Bezalel Smotrich, with Otzma participating) is solidly in.
The two ultra-orthodox parties, UTJ and Shas, showed more strength than had been expected. And Kahlon’s Kulanu was holding its own.
The really big shocker was the announcement that the New Right of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked had not passed the threshold.
There were many reasons why this may have happened, including last minute efforts by Netanyahu to draw votes to Likud. Hard questions might be asked regarding the judgment of Bennett and Shaked, in breaking away from Bayit Yehudi: They over-estimated their draw. Bennett, who projected that he would be the defense minister in the new government, was over-confident.
All this said and done, they have much to offer Israel and it was sad to see them cut off.
Once again, we see a great many votes lost.
The announcement of the election results, described above, was in fact preliminary, for votes of soldiers, as well as other absentees – diplomats, those in hospitals and prisons – had not yet been counted. Thursday passed with considerable uncertainty and confusion.
There was some hope that the New Right might in the end pass the threshold, and at one point it seemed that it had. But then it was said that a computer glitch had improperly entered results. In the end, the New Right did not make it. What made it terribly painful was that they were very, very close: less than 2,000 votes short, or 3.22% of the vote, while the threshold is 3.25%.
Very late on Thursday night, the Central Elections Committee published results, which I share below.
This is not an official count however. That comes when the numbers are submitted to President Rivlin next week. Justice Hanan Melcer, head of the Committee, wrote a letter to all factions stating that:
“We retain the right to examine the results using additional means at the committee’s disposal… so that they are still subject to changes and adjustments.”
Having seen this qualifier, Bennett and Shaked have declared that they are not giving up. One can hardly blame them for continuing to question the results as announced. They may be filing an appeal for a recount, and UTJ has questions as well.
According to the results published, the right wing bloc has 65 mandates:
Likud moved up one mandate, for 36. This is one more than Blue and White, and the most Netanyahu has ever garnered in an election. A triumph, for sure.
Shas – 8 seats; United Torah Judaism – 7; Yisrael Beitenu – 5; United Right – 5; Kulanu – 4.
It falls to Netanyahu to negotiate with each of these parties and arrive at coalition understandings. In due course, President Rivlin will formally charge him with this responsibility, but talks are already proceeding informally. Netanyahu is a master at dealing with the diverse demands he will undoubtedly be encountering. We will know a great deal more about the direction of his government once we see which ministries have been allocated to the various parties.
Moshe Kahlon, who left Likud in 2012 and subsequently established his Kulanu party, is currently negotiating a merger with Likud; he would retain his position as Finance Minister.
Kulanu dropped from a previous 10 mandates to four in this election; the merger would be much to Kahlon’s advantage, but it strengthens Likud as well.
Rafi Peretz, head of the Union of the Right, is proposing a technical bloc with Shas and UTJ for purposes of coalition negotiations, in order to lay out significant demands from a position of strength.
The left wing bloc has 55 mandates. This is including Arabs, who have 10 mandates; Arab voter turnout was very low.
Labor, which for a good part of Israel’s history was the dominant party, sank in this election to six mandates. Chair Avi Gabbay has decided to remain in his position for now in spite of the fierce criticism leveled at him from within Labor, but the party’s future is uncertain.
As world leaders offered Netanyahu congratulations on his electoral victory, I was reminded of the enormous regard accorded him in many quarters internationally. This is one of our prime minister’s strengths, and it serves us well.
He has other strengths, in addition, of course. He is broadly viewed as the most experienced and the best equipped to lead our nation.
But, that said, I would not remotely suggest that all will be smooth sailing for the new government in the months ahead:
- We will be watching closely with regard to multiple promises Netanyahu made during the campaign. If he has a reputation for competency and experience, he is also known for making promises that are not fulfilled – an “occupational hazard” of politicians, I suppose, but he is particularly adept at this.
He would consider, he said, applying sovereignty to settlements in Judaea and Samaria. I will revisit this matter, but note here that the prime minister’s position was severely distorted on the left.
He also said he would finally dismantle Khan al-Ahmar, the illegal Bedouin village in E1. This should have happened a long time ago, but Netanyahu kept looking over his shoulder at a disapproving EU.
It is in situations like this that the make-up of the right wing coalition is critically important.
- Connected to this is the pending Trump “Deal of the Century,” which we are now being told will likely be unveiled in June. Netanyahu knows he must not – would not consider – rejecting it outright, as this would not be politic. The PLO is playing it that way, and we will leave them to it. He must acknowledge the hard work of the team, the constructive elements included, etc. etc., and then have the backbone to say no, when push comes to shove.
It is heartening to note that after Netanyahu made his comment about sovereignty over the settlements, Secretary of State Pompeo, in testimony to Senate subcommittee, refused to explicitly back a “two-state solution.”
- Our interaction with Hamas is still in flux. For all of his statements regarding readiness to go into Gaza even with an election pending, Netanyahu truly had no desire to do that. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, unfortunately, had his number. And now? We still have troops at the border with Gaza, but there is also talk of a five year “ceasefire.” Then there are issues with Hamas terrorists in our prisons. There should be no concessions to Hamas.
- The hearing to indict the prime minister hangs over him. But already this hearing has been pushed off some months, and Netanyahu has hopes that his government will act to make this issue disappear for the duration of his time in office.
As we track all of these issues over time, we have reason to be encouraged: Our nation is definitely moving to the right, and that movement will be reflected in the makeup of the government.
It is a good sign that the PLO is having apoplexy over the election results.