Here are the final results of yesterday's Israeli election - according to the Israeli press. These results could still change slightly - though they are apparently based on more than 99% of the actual polling station results. If there are any changes from these numbers, they would be very minor.
Likud 31 Right/Right-Centre Same as exit polls
Yesh Atid 19 Left/Left-Centre Same
Labour 15 Left Down 2 seats from exit polls
Shas 11 Ultra-Religious Down 1
Bayit Yehudi - 11 Religious/Right Down 1
Meretz 6 Left Down 1
Hatenuah 6 Left-Centre Down 1
Yehadut HaTorah 7 Ultra-Religious Up 1
Hadash 4 Arab/Left Up 1
Raam-Taal 5 Arab/Left Up 1
Balad 3 Arab/Left Up 1
Kadima (Mofaz) 2 Centre Up 2
With these new numbers, the "right wing bloc" as it is referred to by the Israeli press - which includes Likud, Bayit Yehudi and the two religious parties, Shas and Yehadut HaTorah sits at a total of 60 seats, which would not provide them with a sufficient number of Knesset members to form a government (61 would be required). To form a government, Prime Minister Netanyahu will have to make compromises with at least some of the centre or left-centre parties to get them into a coalition government. In doing so, Netanyahu will have some very interesting challenges. He may choose to start by negotiating a deal with the number two party, Yesh Atid. Assuming he could come to a deal with this party, the deal would probably be attractive to Tsipi Livni and HaTenuah as well. That would put the three parties at 56. They would then either need to add religious parties (who have 18 seats - between Shas and Yehadut HaTorah) or they would have to add the right wing Bayit Hayehudi (with 11). Much of Lapid's campaign has focused on reducing the influence of the ultra-religious parties in Israel - ensuring that the ultra-religious are conscripted to the army, reducing the amount of money paid to Yeshivas. So it is hard to see how Netanyahu will be able to build a government with both Yesh Atid and the religious parties.
If Netanyahu chooses to add Bennett's party (Habayit Hayehudi), there will also be significant hurdles. While Habayit Hayehudi might go along with some form of universal conscription (they are a religious party but a party of "modern Orthodox" who serve in the army), Bennett is strongly opposed to some of Lapid's ideas with respect to the peace process. If this type of coalition is arranged, it might lead to significant domestic policy changes but it is hard to see how a government that includes Bennett would make any meaningful changes to the policies of the current Israeli government with repect to the Palestinians.
So in either case, it will be tricky for Netanyahu, who will likely be required to include Yesh Atid plus either the ultra-religious parties or the more nationalist party, both of which have interests that conflict with those of Yesh Atid.
Netanyahu could aim for a broader coaltion with Lapid, Labour and even Meretz. However, this seems quite unlikely. Labour's leader Sheli Yacomovitch has attacked Netanyahu at every opportunity and has railed against the possibility of another Likud led government. She has stated very clearly she would not join. While this might be a wonderful bargaining tactic, it is hard to see how Labour would wind up in a goverment with Likud this time around. Meretz is even further to the left.
One other option is that the left and left-centre bloc could try to form a coalition with the religious parties and take over the government. T|his is what Labour leader Yacomovitch was suggesting last night that she would try to do. However, she is sitting at only 15 seats. Even if she added 18 ultra-religious seats, that would get her to 33. Add Meretz and she has 39. She could add Tsipi Livni and get up to 45. She could get the support of the Arab parties and that would get her to 57. Would Lapid want to join this type of government, which would rely heavily on including 18 ultra-religious Knesset members and 12 Arab members of the Knesset? This seems extremely unlikely. I would have to conclude that Labour is going to be part of the opposition unless it dramatically changes its rhetoric very soon.
So overall, it looks like a government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and moderated, perhaps significantly, by Yair Lapid. We should see some signficant changes in direction. If the government includes Shas and Yehadut HaTorah but not Habayit Hayehudi, we may see movement towards reopening peace negotiations with the Palestinians but not nearly as much domestic change as Lapid might have liked. If the government includes Habayit Hayehudi but not the ultra-religious parties, we could see signficant domestic change but not necessarily any movement on Israeli-Palestinian issues. Of course, coalition negotiations in Israel never cease to amaze, so we could see some very interesting surprises. Prime Minister Netanyahu is very experienced in handling these negotiations and has managed to put together some very stable Israeli governments. As he said in his speech last night, it is time for him to get to work and start negotiating.
The next few weeks - or even months of coalition building and horse trading will be fascinating. We will only understand that real results and meaning of this election once we see the make up of the new coalition government. In either case, it is almost certain that there will be some movement to the left on either domestic issues, foreign policy issues or perhaps even both.
Postscript: See my subsequent posts - but the "final results" have Bayit Hayehudi at 12 and Ra'am-Tal down to 4. I have discussed the implications of this in my Jan 24 post - Election is Over: Coalition Talks Begin.