Israel's Election: Netanyahu Holds On, Center Does Well
Israeli politics cannot be understood by analogy with those of other countries. Neither class and economic nor even peace process issues are fundamental in Israeli politics. At present, the critical issue is who will or won’t form a coalition with Netanyahu’s party. Many voted for Lapid with the idea that he would go into a government with Netanyahu and be a moderate influence pushing for more attention to improving domestic infrastructure.
The idea of Netanyahu as a rightist is outdated. That he moved Likud to the center -- albeit with a significant right-wing faction remaining -- is the secret of his success in gaining two consecutive election victories. The failure of the peace process, the second intifada, the rise of Islamism, and the Palestinian abandonment of negotiations with Israel all have made his broad analysis of the situation acceptable to most Israelis. His opponents focus mainly on stressing dovish credentials rather than offering specific alternatives.
Attention now turns to the question of how Netanyahu can put together a coalition that will hold 61 seats, a majority needed to form a government.
There are several possibilities. Netanyahu never wanted a right-wing government with Bennett. Even if he did, a combination with that party would only get him up to 42 and he would be hard-put to find partners who would join such a combination. Even pulling in the two religious parties would let him reach 60 but he knows that this is a situation that would both cause big international problems and create a situation in which he could be daily blackmailed by threats of his partners to walk out of the coalition.
A coalition with Lapid would be far more attractive and bring him quickly to 50 seats. The problem is that Lapid doesn’t mix with the religious parties, especially Shas. While his party is less explicitly anti-Haredi (what is usually, but wrongly, called "Ultra-Orthodox”) than his late father's similar party, he still wouldn’t be eager for such a combination.
Since the far left is clearly not a coalition partner and both Labor and Livni have said they would not go into a coalition with him, unless they change that decision, Netanyahu has a problem. The irony is that if Netanyahu would ever be forced to go with Bennett it would be because Labor and Livni left him no alternative.