1. The Netanyahu bloc is now sitting at a very comfortable 65 seats. That breaks down to 32 for Likud (Bibi's party), 14 for the Religious Zionist party, 11 for Sha'as and 8 for the United Torah Judaism Party. This is the "fully right wing government" that Bibi's supporters have dreamt of.
2. The growth in the size of the Netanyahu bloc has come at the expense, partially, of Meretz, which is now sitting at less than 3.25% and unlikely to pass the electoral threshhold. Although there is still a chance that this leftist secular bloc could pass the threshhold, most analysts have suggested that it looks unlikely given the make up of the remaining uncounted votes.
3. The Arab party Bal'ad is also below the threshhold. They are also unlikely to pass.
4. The Labour party is apparently very close to the threshold (just over) and is facing the possibility of falling below - which could strengthen Bibi even further. They seem likely to scrape through but it will be close.
If Meretz and Bal'ad were to both pass, which seems highly unlikely, the Likud-led bloc could fall to as low as 61 seats. That would still leave Likud and its bloc with a majority.
Bibi will now have 30 days to cobble together an official coalition. Although there will definitely be in-fighting over key cabinet ministries, it seems likely that this bloc will be able to put things together within the alotted month. There are lots of egos here, lots of likely demands and lots of disagreements. But compared to past coalitions that Bibi has formed, this will be relatively easy.
Among the priorities and likely steps to be taken by this new government:
1. The appointment of a new Justice Minister, some new judges and some type of steps to be taken to end Bibi's trial. The Religious Zionist party floated the prospect of introducing legislation to remove the criminal offences of corruption and breach of trust for sitting government members. If passed, this would effectively end Bibi's trial;
2. Elimination of the special tax on sugary beverages (coca cola etc.,) and non-resusable plastics and other disposable materials. The ultra-religious have complained about these taxes which were introduced by the previous government. They claim that these special taxes were directed at them since they are the highest users of these products. The tax on disposable goods was clearly implemented as an environmental measure. The tax on sugary beverages was imposed as a response to growing obesity among young people.
3. Significantly increased police presence in Arab-Israeli areas and increased army presence in Palestinian areas - in an effort to reduce violence in Arab-Israeli communities and in an effort to stop the current wave of Palestinian terror attacks.
4. Immediate legislation or special measures to significantly increase the budgets (state funding) for Yeshiva students, ultra-religious organizations, and settlement/settler organizations.
I think that it is reasonable to expect that we will see government action taken in a number of areas:
1. I expect that the Religious Zionist party will push for widespread expansion of settlement activity throughout Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank"). The government is likely to offer low cost housing, incentives for young families (especially Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox families) to move to these areas. This will enrage Palestinians and may well bring about a third (or fourth) "intifadah."
2. Increased power for the ultra-orthodox Rabbinical establishment including increased funding. This could reverse the changes that were made previously to demonopolize Kosher supervision, it could lead to a complete ban on any non-Orthodox activity at the Kotel (the Western Wall) and it could make conversion to Judaism even more difficult. I would think, for example, the "Women of the Wall" are going to be in for a very rough time.
3. A much more boisterous and aggressive foreign policy. We could see an increase in attacks on Hezbollah bases in Lebanon and Syria and quite possibly, increased action taken against Iran. It is unclear how this government will position itself with respect to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Netanyahu has always had a good relationship with Putin and Israel may be reluctant to become involved in any way in support of Ukraine.
4. Coalition members of the incoming members have called for widespread "judicial reform." Aside from filling the benches with right wing judges, I'm not sure what else they have planned here. They may want further changes to the Israeli "Basic Law" to place more of an emphasis on the "Jewish" character of Israel and less of an emphasis on the "democratic" nature of the state - or on the principle of equality.
5. If even some of these changes start to take place, Israel may well begin to face all sorts of criticism and international pressure - not only from other democratic countries but from Jews from around the world as well.
In the medium to longer term, if this coalition holds up, the Religious Zionist party will make more demands that will create tension between their party and Bibi. Among its campaign platforms, the RZ party has, over the years, called for capital punishment for terrorists, government payments to "encourage" emigration of Arabs and Palestinians, significant changes to the Israeli legal system and other steps of the type that far right wing governments typically take. I expect that some of the Likud members are likely to be uncomfortable with some of the demands made by the RZ coalition partners.
As an educated, westernized, English speaking politician, Netanyahu would probably be more comfortable forming a government with Gantz, Sa'ar and some of the other generals in Gantz's party, even Bennett, as opposed to a bunch of utra-orthodox and extremist politicians. However, given his current legal troubles, and the bridges that he burned over the years with all of these people for different reasons, this was not an option so he is left to do the best with what he saw as the most promising opportunity.
Overall, Bibi ran a masterful campaign even though he and his party actually wound up with only 30-31 seats, which is lower than the numbers that they have had in the past. The two big winners here are the Religious Zionist Party and Sha'as.
The RZ party soaked up all of the votes that Bennett had in the past. Bennett had run as a right wing leader but wound up in a coalition with centrist and leftist parties. His voters were furious. His party, which is now led by Ayelet Shaked, was eviscerated in this election. The Shas party, despite having a leader who has been convicted twice of criminal offences, including a 2021 plea bargain deal, (or perhaps because of this) still managed to collect 10-11 seats. That's an astounding number for this ultra-religious party but full credit to its leader, Aryah Deri, the certified fraudster.
There are several losers on the other side. The biggest loser so far is Meretz, which may not even make the cut-off. Their former leader, Nitzan Horowitz, served as the minister of education. He resigned after the government fell. Meretz brought back its past, less compromising leader, Zehava Gal'on. She was obviously not the right choice. The Labour party and Lieberman's party are close to where they were previously though Lieberman has, in the past, reached numbers closer to 7 or 8 seats.
For the Arab parties, the results are a disaster. They disbanded their unified party and wound up throwing away four seats. Having a total of only 8 or 9 Arab Israeli Knesset members is a major loss and will leave Israeli Arabs with a significantly reduced voice in state affairs.
I would also say that this was a disaster for Yair Lapid. Although his party picked up 24 seats, which was an improvement, his move to the left probably contributed to the decline of the Meretz party - as well as to the increased strength on the right. Lapid made several mistakes as election day approached. His speech at the U.N. was ill-considered and made without a proper mandate. His decision to sign off on a gas deal with Lebanon just weeks before an election was ill advised. And his campaign, generally, was lacklustre. While Bibi was running around the country visiting people in their homes and holding rallies, Lapid was much less visible.
In my view, to retain legitimacy, Lapid needs to open up his party to "primaries" and turn the party into a democratically functioning party rather than a one-man party. He needs input from others towards developing medium and long term strategies and those strategies have to be formed with the equal input from a range of party members or new blood. Even the leadership of the party should be contestable.
All of this being said, there may well be quite a bit of backlash once this new government eventually falls and the centre and centre-left will need a strong alternative to Bibi ready to jump into action and run an effective campaign.
Interesting and challenging times are ahead but, as I mentioned yesterday, Bibi is firmly in the driver's seat and everyone knows he is the boss. He can't blame any government problems on anyone else at this point - he will have to take full responsibility for any actions that his government takes. In effect, we will now get to see the "real Bibi."
I will provide one more update once we have the absolute final results in, especially if anything changes. At this point, however, there is a good chance that nothing will change dramatically.