WITH both Likud and Blue and White expressing confidence they will lead the next government, Israelis are gearing up for a drawn-out period of political horse-trading before they discover what the results of Tuesday’s election actually mean.
It was the ballot that was meant to end the stalemate – but instead it has left the country in a state of uncertainty.
“We might enter a period of days and perhaps weeks, when it is unclear who is going to be the Prime Minister,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute. “This is an unprecedented situation.”
At 10pm on Tuesday, activists in the headquarters of the two big parties were hoping for exit polls that would make them clear winners. They have been deadlocked since they tied in the last election in April.
The polls brought broad smiles at the HQ of the centrist Blue and White, which appeared to have a lead of one to two seats. “The extremists are out, fear and hatred are out, incitement and division are out,” said the party’s number two Yair Lapid. “Today Israeli values returned to the centrestage of Israeli politics.”
At Likud HQ, amid the Bibi-emblazoned hats, T-shirts and even chocolates, exit polls were followed by a few moments of stony silence.
Strategist Eli Vered-Hazan looked at the figures, and then said repeatedly: “They are only polls.” In the hours that followed, Blue and White claimed victory, and staff at Likud HQ tried desperately to gee-up the mood by blasting music and getting activists to sing “Bibi King of Israel” to the tune of David Melech Yisrael.
Meanwhile, activists at the HQs of the Arab party Joint List and the rightist Israel Beytenu were celebrating, as they look to take up around 15 and nine Knesset seats respectively. There were mixed feelings at the bases of the Charedi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism. They look set to take around nine and eight seats respectively – solid figures but this may not translate into any government power given the strong push for a secularist government.
The rightist Yamina is poised to receive seven seats, and the left-wing Labour and Democratic Camp are expected to take five and six seats respectively.
As of press time, exit polls were showing Blue and White with 32 seats and Likud either tied or trailing by one seat. This means that neither party has a clear path to the 61-seat majority they need to form a government.
Israel Beytenu’s leader Avigdor Lieberman said that a unity government is the only solution for the current “emergency situation”.
Lieberman scuppered Bibi’s last coalition-building attempt, and all eyes are on him this time around. “Netanyahu does not have a government without Lieberman,” noted Plesner. “Lieberman can really dictate the make-up, to a certain extent, of the next government.”
This is because President Reuven Rivlin gives the coalition-building mandate to the candidate with the best chance of success. With Lieberman’s backing, this could be Netanyahu. But Lieberman is against the kind of right-wing coalition that Netanyahu wants to build, because he is a secularist who is determined to sideline Orthodox parties.
But if Lieberman sticks to his guns, Likud’s next best path to government is a unity coalition with Blue and White, and this appears to hinge on Gantz’s insistence that Likud fires Bibi. Vered-Hazan, the Likud strategist, told The AJN that this won’t happen. “If you look at the DNA of Likudniks, they do not replace their leaders,” he said. “Plus, Netanyahu is a world-class leader.”