With most of the votes counted, Tuesday’s election results show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failing to win enough seats (61) to form a coalition government with his “natural partners” on the right.
Both Likud and Kahol Lavan are neck and neck, with Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc securing 55 seats and Benny Gantz’s center-left bloc 56 seats.
Both Netanyahu and Gantz will claim that the people chose them to lead the country, and they deserve the first crack at forming a government. It will be down to President Reuven Rivlin to decide who gets the first opportunity — and seeing as Netanyahu already failed following the previous election in April, the chances are that he may choose Gantz this time. The nominated leader then has 28 days (with a possible short extension) to form their government.
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Here are some potential scenarios ranked in order of what may happen next…
Unity government featuring Likud and Kahol Lavan
The biggest obstacle here is what to do about Gantz’s election pledge not to sit in a Netanyahu government, given the prime minister’s upcoming indictment over corruption charges pending a hearing. In the coming days we’ll doubtless hear Netanyahu warn of war and budget collapse, promise peace, and so on, just to persuade Gantz that this is an emergency that justifies breaking the promise to his voters.
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Likelihood: Medium, if only because this is the most reasonable option
Both Likud and Kahol Lavan can thwart each other’s attempts to form a coalition government. This would mean a third election, early next year, which legally can be held after every possibility to form a government has been exhausted.
Likud and Kahol Lavan with the ultra-Orthodox parties
This would be a very convenient coalition. But United Torah Judaism head Yaakov Litzman has said he will not sit in a government with Kahol Lavan’s number two, Yair Lapid. Will Litzman keep his word even if it means going into the opposition? In the fight over the military draft law — which mandates the conscription of more yeshiva students — the Haredim went against their own interests. Could that happen again here?
Likelihood: Medium to low
Right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties with Labor-Gesher
The results so far indicate that the right-wing and religious bloc (Likud, Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism) and Labor-Gesher together can pass the 61 seats needed to form a government. Netanyahu will try to tempt Labor Party leader Amir Peretz with the defense, finance or justice portfolio, and economic promises. But Peretz was adamant he would not sit with Netanyahu, and it would be a huge embarrassment to him if he went back on his word. Because this would be a coalition with a very narrow majority, one or two rebels could easily bring it down.
Likelihood: Very low
Likud and Kahol Lavan together, Netanyahu ousted
The question is whether the Likud party would start divorce proceedings with its leader of the past 13 years and then seek a unity government with Kahol Lavan. The party’s grassroots back Netanyahu at any cost, and it is hard to believe they’d oust their chairman — even if still he believes they might.
Center-left alliance with the ultra-Orthodox
The growing strength of the two ultra-Orthodox parties could even open the door to a possible coalition between them and Kahol Lavan, Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Union. With an attractive enough offer from Gantz, would the ultra-Orthodox parties prefer going with him to yet another election? The Haredim wouldn’t get on board without concessions that would be humiliating to Lapid — and it’s hard to see him agreeing.
Right-wing bloc with Lieberman
It is hard to imagine that Avigdor Lieberman dragged Israel through a second election in five months just to be a third wheel in a new Netanyahu government featuring Likud, Yamina, the two ultra-Orthodox parties and his own Yisrael Beiteinu. In Lieberman’s victory speech he made clear that “there’s no chance of a minority government,” and he probably won’t go for a deal in which the premiership is rotated, either. It is impossible to run a government with only eight or nine seats (which is what Yisrael Beiteinu will likely secure), and Lieberman is smart enough to know that.
Likelihood: Next to nil
Kahol Lavan and Likud, with Gantz as prime minister
Gantz will claim that he deserves the mandate from Rivlin to form a government and will offer Netanyahu a senior ministerial post. Netanyahu will refuse with an eye on his potential indictment in December.