OK. Polls are closed and we can start offering some thoughts based on an aggregate of exits polls. Important to emphasize that final vote tally (actual results here) isn't announced till Thursday and given how close some of this is, those numbers, if they push one or another party up/down a seat, could be key in determining who gets invited to form the next government of Israel.
With that said, some initial thoughts:
The traditional big parties (Labor and Likud) won. Each is rejuvenated, there's a dead heat between them for "biggest." For Likud that's a huge comeback in recent days, largely at the expense of parties to their right (and at an as yet unknown cost on the international stage for reversing support for two states and closing argument today re Arab citizens).
United Arab List is now a power, potentially, if they can stick together. This is good news if it leads to a healthy new approach for normalized political power for 20% of Israel's citizens, especially after some of the late and truly disturbing electioneering on the right. They also may have the power to make it harder for Netanyahu to form a narrow right of center government.
Coalition math (again, based on exit polls) and you can play with this tool to build your own coalition:
- Bibi has easiest path to being PM again, with a narrow right wing government. However that narrowness (62-63 seats in 120 member Knesset) means being held hostage to every single coalition partner. Important to remember that some of those partners are very different kinds of "right" (I.e. settlers of Jewish Home, ultra-Orthodox of United Torah Judaism, Shas, to say nothing of the 2 state supporters in Kulanu – more on them below).
- Herzog has a much harder path to a coalition without Likud. He needs the United Arab List to hold together, + at least 1 center/right "tired of Bibi" party (Kulanu or Liberman's) to come along in addition to Yesh Atid and Meretz.
- A unity government: Bibi and Herzog, with Yesh Atid and Kulanu, is potentially the most stable. Neither of the smaller parties can break the coalition by itself. Many variables here.
In any coalition, details to watch: Who gets what ministries and what does the coalition agreement commit a new government to doing? Many of these parties have their own candidates for prime jobs like Finance, Foreign Affairs; Watch closely to see what happens.
Herzog probably doesn't get to be PM without Kahlon's support, also Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid. Bibi doesn't get another term without Kahlon either. The Zionist 2-state center holds real power going into Phase 2.
Kulanu and Moshe Kahlon – aka the party more familiar to many in the US as the party of Michael Oren – is also key if they can be a kingmaker from the center.
In the coming week President Rivlin holds the real power since he gets to invite someone to try and form a coalition. He's a realist, unlikely to defy the numbers as he sees them after Thursday. He's also a Likudnik, but with deep animosity toward Bibi. He has already tonight urged a unity government.
As an interesting aside, a unity coalition makes the United Arab List's Haifa communist leader Ayman Odeh the official leader of Israel's opposition (the head of the largest party not in the coalition) with important privileges and access.
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