The results of the September elections in Israel are – and it is not yet clear who will be the next Prime Minister of the country. But the results have been the biggest threat to the retention of incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since he took office in 2009.
With over 90 percent of the votes counted now, the centrist blue-white party appears to have won the most seats in the Israeli Parliament, called the Knesset – 32 out of 120. Netanyahu Likud's right came in close second with 31 seats.
Obviously, none of these parties has a sufficient parliamentary majority of its own. Which means that they will either have to conclude some power-sharing agreement with each other and form what is called a "national unity" government, or they will unite a coalition of the seven smaller parties that made the Knesset. The most important of these is Yisrael Beiteinu, a hawkish secular party whose beliefs are very much up in the air. Its leader, former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, has been widely described as a "royal maker" in the Israeli press.
This is the struggle of Netanyahu's political life – and his personal. Because if he loses, there will be no way to guard against impending corruption and bribery charges. The defeat in Netanyahu's coalition talks may not only be the end of his political career; this may be the end of his freedom.
Israeli Election Results: How to Think Out of the Chaos
The best way to think about Israeli politics is from the perspective of two major ideological blocs, determined mainly (but not exclusively) from Palestinian positions, the rights of Palestinians. minorities and the connection between the synagogue and the state.
Union left to left, which includes blue-whites in the middle Blue-whites, the left in the center of the left, the left Democratic Union, and the Joint List of the Arab Minority (which fell into the third category of this election). Then there is a right-wing grouping that includes Likud, the ultra-Orthodox parties of Chassis and Judaism of the United Torah, and the settlement of the pro-western coast of Yamina. (Another right-wing party, Jewish supreme Democrat Otzma Yehudit, failed to get enough votes to enter the Knesset.)
Current results show a center-left bloc with 56 seats and a right-wing bloc with 55. The remaining nine seats in the Knesset go to Yisrael Beiteinu on Lieberman (our Israeli home) who crosses the difference.
Lieberman is extremely furious about security and the Palestinians; it supports the annexation of part of the West Bank. This aligns Yisrael Beiteinu with the right block; in fact, in the past Lieberman served in Netanyahu's office.
However, Lieberman's voting base – made up largely of voters of Russian origin – is also relatively secular and outraged by the privileges enjoyed by ultra-Orthodox people in Israeli society. After Israel's last election in April, Lieberman refused to join Netanyahu's coalition unless Netanyahu agreed to a bill that undermined mandatory military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men. Netanyahu refused to avoid super-Orthodox support, but without Lieberman's support, he did not have enough votes for a parliamentary majority. So he chose to call new elections in September in order to win a more secure majority.
But now we know that this has not happened. Netanyahu's leadership is more obstructed than ever, and Lieberman is a swinging vote that can help determine who ultimately runs the government.
The next step is Israeli President Raven Rivlin meeting with the leadership of all parties and then tasking Gantt or Netanyahu with an attempt to form a governing coalition based on who he believes is the best chance of doing so. (yes, there is a president and a prime minister in the Israeli system). No one yet knows who Rivlin will commission or what kind of government he can get out of it.
Most experts believe that smart money is in some kind of government for national unity, which would probably include Blue and White, Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and probably others. But no one is quite sure exactly who will lead such an agreement.
Netanyahu may remain prime minister in some way – perhaps if he agrees to withdraw when the criminal charge against him is formally filed. Ganz can only end up as Prime Minister. Another Likud member may end up with the highest job, fulfilling Gant's condition that Netanyahu no longer holds the prime minister's post. The weirdest scenario is that the parties could literally share power – with Ganz and some Likud leaders alternating, taking the lead. This has happened before in Israeli politics, strange as it may sound.
Almost everything now depends on the background negotiations between Gant, Netanyahu, the rest of Likud and Lieberman. Again, no one really knows how this will continue or even if the national unity government is working. There are other possible arrangements, though the numbers make it difficult either for a single right or left center to hold power.
So basically, everything is in the air. The only thing we can be absolutely certain of is that Netanyahu, a shabby politician, will fight like hell to maintain his power. Faced with the risk of prison, his last hope is to pass a law immune to criminal charges as long as he takes up his post. To build enough support for this apparently shady bill, he will probably have to remain Prime Minister.
But Gantz primarily campaigned as a defender of Israeli democracy against Netanyahu's personal corruption. It is difficult to imagine a coalition comprising a blue and white vote to protect Netanyahu from the effects of his corrupt practices (which allegedly include, among other things, the provision of a political service to a large media organization in exchange for positive coverage )
We cannot say what the political consequences of these elections will be until a coalition emerges. But personally, it is clear to me that Netanyahu, the longest serving Prime Minister in Israel's history, is currently at risk not only of political defeat, but also of serving prison.