We are still waiting for the actual final results in the 2022 Israeli elections. But at this point, it appears that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won a resounding victory and will be able to form a government with somewhere between 62 and 64 seats in the Knesset of 120 seats.
According to exit polls as well as the real time results that are still pouring in, Netanyahu's Likud party has captured approximately 30 seats or 25% of the eligible vote. The number of seats for the Likud is not at an all-time high - but it is the results of Netanyahu's intended coalition partners that will put him in the driver's seat.
The election appears to have been a major victory for the Religious Zionist ("RZ") party, led by Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir. This is a far-right party that includes members who were Kahane party members in the past. At the press conference that Ben-Gvir held earlier this evening, members were chanting "death to terrorists," referring to one of Ben-Gvir's demands that Israel institute capital punishment for terrrorists. I was listening - and could have sworn I heard the crowd chanting "death to the Arabs" but I will give the crowd the benefit of the doubt and go with the reported chant. The RZ party seems to be headed for 14-16 seats, a huge number for a party that has never come close to these numbers. And a frightening number for those who prefer governments without fascist parties.
Another of Netanyahu's partners is the Shas party, the ultra-religious Sephardi party, which is being reported as winning 10 seats. Shas has been running at 7-8 seats over the past few elections so this is a reasonably significant improvement for them. The other ultra-religious party - "United Torah Judaism" is being reported as winning 8 seats.
If we add up these numbers, we arrive at between 61 and 63 seats for Netanyahu and his bloc.
Netanyahu will not have an easy time responding to the various demands for cabinet posts, huge budgets and and laundry lists of action items from these three extreme parties. He will also need to satisfy his own Likud members by showering them with cabinet posts. I expect that there will be a huge cabinet - with close to 30 members if not more.
Yair Lapid's party, to this point, is registering 23 seats, which is a disappointing result for a party that was hoping to lead the government. Some people had expected that Yesh Atid could get up to 27-28 seats, which would have provided the party with a real opportunity to form a government. If Yesh Atid winds up on the opposition benches for the next four years, it will need to consider holding party primaries and acting more like a political party than a one-person show.
Benjamin Gantz's party, the National Camp, is running at about 10 seats, which is very low for a party that ran with the slogans "Only Gantz can do it" and "After Him" (or "Follow Him"). This party is certainly disappointed with their apparent showing.
If the curent results hold up, the other "bloc" members that had worked with Yesh Atid including Labour (5), Meretz (4), and Ra'am (5) will come in at close to the predicted numbers from advance polls. Lieberman's party is currently running at 5 seats, which is a bit lower than expected.
But overall, no matter how you slice these numbers, Lapid's best case scenario so far is 52-53 seats. There just does not seem to be a path to 61, even if some of the results change.
The voting turnout for this election, the fifth election in about three and a half years, was just over 80% of eligible votes, which is quite high for a western democracy these days and Israel's highest turnout since 1999.
One of the big reasons for the current state of affairs is the results among the Israeli Arab population. In the past several elections, there were three Arab parties running together - Hadash, Ta'al and Bal'ad These are generally anti-Zionist parties - who have in the past reached numbers as high as 15-16 seats. Leading up to this election, Hadash and Ta'al began to discuss the possibility of cooperating with a Zionist government. The most extreme party of the three - Bal'ad - broke off from the coaltion as the prospect of cooperating in any way with a Zionist government was unacceptable.
Following that break-up - the Hadash-Ta'al coalition of two Arab parties is in line to obtain 5 seats. But Bal'ad is apparently likely to finish below the required cut-off perentage of 3.25%, which would leave the party outside of the Knesset. This means that the total Arab representation in the Knesset would only be 5 seats from Hadash-Ta'al and 5 seats from Ra'am. Ra'am is a party that entered into a coalition agreement in the most recent government. Hadash-Ta'al and Bal'ad are both groups that generally have no interest in cooperating with a sitting Israeli Zionist government.
According to some reports, Bal'ad is polling at more than 3.1%. If it gets to 3.25%, it would suddenly pick up 4 seats - and 2 of those seats reportedly could come from the right wing bloc. In other words, there is a still a chance between now and the end of the week that Bibi's bloc could be reduced to 60 seats, which would mean a stalemate. However, the way things are trending at this point, that does not seem likely.
Assuming that these results hold up, this will be the furthest right-wing government that Israel has ever had. The Shas party has been a government partner several times. They will insist on increased funding for yeshivas, prefential housing arrangements for yeshiva students and their families, an end to any discussion of mandatory enlistment to the army for ultra-religious men, and an end to any discussed requirements of forcing the ultra-religious to study secular subjects in their schools and institutions. They will also ask for huge budgets for their party and their constituency - all to be overseen by their leader Aryah Deri, a convicted fraudster. He previously spent years in prison for bribery and corruption while serving as the Minister of the Interior. But he made a comeback years later, was re-elected as leader of the Shas party and now has 10 seats or more.
The United Torah Judaism party will make similar demands to those of Shas - though for their constituency. They will seek greater power for the rabbinate and will launch ongoing attacks on gender equality as they have in the past. They strongly oppose LGBTQ rights, gender equality, science (generally) and secular law. Having sat in the opposition for the past year and half, they are hungry to make up for the lost time and will present Netanyahu with quite a large list of demands.
The largest coalition partner for Netanyahu, the RZ party, has never played such an active role in the government. The RZ party has proposed removing the offences of corruption and public breach of trust from the criminal code, which would effectively end Netanyahu's trial. They seek to appoint a majority of right wing judges to the courts, to "untie the hands" of soldiers and police in dealing with Palestinian and Arab violence and they aim to expend the settlements, provide greater protection for settlers in Judea and Samaria (the "west bank") and take a much harder line towards the Palestinians and Palestinian terrorism and attacks. Some of the demands of the RZ may conflict with the two ultra-religious parties since the RZ members do believe in studying secular subjects, they work, serve in the army and pay taxes (unlike many of the ultra-Orthodox). They have called for the institution of capital punishment for terrorists, the expulsion of "non-loyal" Palestinians from the country and a range of other far-right policies.
Netanyahu is certainly aware that Israel would face a major international backlash if it were to implement some of these policies. At the same time, he has promised to support these parties as part of his election campaign. In his speech tonight, he called for the restoration of "Israeli pride" and claimed that Israel needs to show the world that it is strong and not weak. Perhaps his partners will insist, for example, on a military attack on the Iranian nuclear program.
If Netanyahu were to implement much or all of this agenda, as demanded by his three coalition partners, the country would start to look like Turkey or even Iran. Netanyahu is not necessarily interested in going that far and some of his fellow Likud members are also likely to resist some of this agenda. But it is a rather motley group. Israelis in the centre and on the left are not getting a warm and fuzzy feeling thinking about what lies ahead.
If the results hold up and Netanyahu can enter coalition agreements with these three partners, he is likely to have a reasonably stable government for the next 3-4 years, even if it is one that generates lots of negative publicity and makes some very unpopular decisions. I hope that saner heads will prevail and that the government will act in a reasonably measured fashion. if it does not, we may see a tech "brain drain" and enormous damage to the Israeli economy and world image.
Some are still hoping that, somehow, overnight, the numbers will magically change. As the evening progresses, this seems to be less and less likely. It is far more likely that in the coming weeks, we will see the reinstallation of Prime Minister Netanyahu - a reincarnation that seems likely to seek vindication, vengance and most importantly, historical rehabilitation.
I wish Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel) and Am Yisrael (the people of Israel) the best of luck.