The terse statement released by Naftali Bennett Tuesday evening – “I will only do what’s good for the State of Israel” – was pretty vague. He left the interpretations to the television studios, but they struggled to make sense of the hodgepodge that the exit polls left behind. As I wrote this, the pollsters and editors were on edge regarding the strength of the blocs; it was hard to guess the fallout in the coming weeks.
Is it good for the State of Israel to rid itself of Benjamin Netanyahu? That’s what Bennett sold us for 100 days. Is it good for the State of Israel to finally have a homogenous government after two and a half years of a caretaker government? That was the scenario projected by the first exit polls, with Bennett joining a right-wing/ultra-Orthodox coalition of some 61 seats – before any potential defectors from the anti-Netanyahu camp.
As with every election since 2013, Bennett met his fate at the ballot box, left with just seven seats after Netanyahu got through with him, cruelly and efficiently as no one else can do. The key to ousting Netanyahu from the premiership might rest in his hands. The temptation to repay the one who made Bennett’s humiliation a hobby will be great.
Based on the first exit polls – before the polls turned on Netanyahu – Bibi was a hair’s breadth from forming a fully right-wing government, as he declared he would. But that was only with Bennett forgiving him for the thousandth time and joining him. And Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party would be as difficult in coalition talks as Bennett, and much more difficult to manage in a coalition government.
A sixth Netanyahu coalition would be dependent on Smotrich’s partners, the Otzma Yehudit party, which was raised in the lap of Meir Kahane, and Noam, the most despicable party Israel has ever known. Netanyahu worked hard to get someone like Noam leader Avi Maoz into the Knesset; his party makes Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit look centrist.
True, a narrow, extremist and extortionist right-wing government isn’t exactly Netanyahu’s dream government, but it’s the government that would let him fire the attorney general and the state prosecutor and replace them with henchmen who would stop his corruption trial. This might even be the far-rightists’ “demand” in the coalition talks, to the joy of the Bibi-ists and the disgrace of everyone else. To that end, Netanyahu rushed to phone Smotrich first, not the largest party in his bloc after Likud – Shas.
If things go Netanyahu’s way, he’ll manage a number of fronts simultaneously. He’ll try to entice defectors, especially from Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, or go in a completely different direction, maybe a bit of quiet persuasion aimed at bringing Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan into the government in order to “balance” it.
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The exit polls have proved – not for the first time – that the last four days before Election Day are a black hole. Parties are saved, parties tank, Knesset seats move from side to side in vast numbers, especially within the blocs but also between them.
New Hope lost votes to Kahol Lavan. Left-wing Meretz, which had already been eulogized, accomplished something big thanks to votes of mercy and pity.
Based on the exit polls, the Labor Party is set to win seven seats, compared with Meretz’s six, so Labor wasn’t harmed by Meretz’s achievement. Israel’s left-wing voters went to the polls in large numbers. Labor’s seven seats are a genuine left-wing resurrection, and should be credited to the party’s new leader, Merav Michaeli.
The United Arab List, which was solid in all the pre-election polls, fell below the electoral threshold in the main exit polls. This is a tale of hubris and naiveté of its leader, Mansour Abbas, whose pride lost the Joint List alliance one of its four parties.
Netanyahu created the independent United Arab List, and he’s the one who killed it. And the difference between 15 seats representing the Arab community and the eight or nine seats after the exit polls is still a factor that could keep Netanyahu in the prime minister’s residence.