The media will tell you that Israelis have voted, the election is over and Bibi Netanyahu has been reelected by a small margin to his third term as prime minister---100% true and 100% useless. In Israel the election is just one part of the political process, as of today the politics truly begin.
Allow me to explain. In Israel voters do not vote directly for a Prime Minister, nor do they vote for a representative---remember it's a tiny country. Actually there were direct elections for the Prime Minister's in the 1980's but that was changed back to the original system when direct voting didn't produce governments that were more stable.
When voters went to the polls yesterday the voted for a party list. The list was a docket of candidates in a particular ranking of importance (first on the list was the party leader/Prime Minister candidate). Because of this system many small parties gain seats in the Knesset.
Seats are awarded to each party that meets a minimum threshold of 2% of the total votes gets seats in Knesset (parliament). Seats are given out in the order they appear on the list. Once the votes are counted the President of Israel (a largely ceremonial position) will ask the leader of one party (usually the one with the most seats) to form a government. That's when the REAL politics begin.
In Israel's short almost 65 year history, no party has ever gotten a majority of the 120 seats in the Knesset. Every government has been a coalition.
For the Americans who are reading this, do you remember all the deals that were made in the senate to pass Obamacare? Like when Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson got all the extra benefits for his state to change his vote? Well folks, you ain't seen nutting yet! In the next few weeks deals will be made for cabinet positions, policies, etc, all in the name of building a coalition of 61+ votes to lead Israel.
As of around 2 am this morning (Israel time) the results were as follows
The biggest issues in the campaign were domestic. With the possible exception of the Balad, and Hadash (who prefer one non-Jewish State) and HabBayit HaYehudi (who want's annexation of Judea and Samaria, all of the parties believe in a two-state solution.The description of Netanyahu in the American press is as hawkish on Israel/Palestinian relations is nonsensical.
Yet the center-right Likud-Beytenyu joint ticket is the big loser. They had 42 seats in the previous Knesset. From the moment the joint ticket was announced it began to fall in the polls. The Beytenyu side is more hawkish but then again former leader Avigdor Lieberman (who left because of a scandal) does support the two-state solution.
So why did Likud lose so many seats? Some say it was because Netanyahu campaign hard against HabBayit HaYehudi and possibly drove moderate undecideds to Yesh Atid.
The big winner has to be Yesh Atid whose second place/19 seats was a huge surprise.
One thing is also clear President Obama's attempt to changes the results of the election through "tool" Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic didn't work.
Yesterday I received an interesting tweet form Dan Senor, American author of Stand Up Nation claiming that two U.S. officials in Israel "quietly conceded that President Obama’s statements to Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg were an intentional effort to hurt Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in the election.
The statements he was talking about were an article Goldberg wrote
for Bloomberg on January 14, the headline of which was,
“Obama: Israel Doesn’t Know What its Best Interests Are.” It was filled
with all the back-door claims from Obama regarding the "lousy" Bibi govt., Including his policies were “self-defeating,” that “Israel doesn’t know
what its own interests are,” and that “Netanyahu is moving his country
down the path toward near-total isolation.” Goldberg playing the perfect Obama patsy wrote that Obama
made these comments frequently, and to several people.
The next and most political step in the "election" process will be for Bibi to build a coalition. As he tried to do in 2009, he will attempt to build a centrist coalition of around 65-70 seats. Yesh Atid is a natural partner but that only gets him to fifty. Shas could join in as they are the more moderate of the "religious parties," but that would mean both the Beytenyu side of Bibi's list and Yesh who are more "secular-oriented" will have to make concessions. UTJ is another possibility. HaBayit HaYehudi Naftali Bennett claims he is not as "extremist" as people say. They are a longer shot but could also be invited into the coalition.
Kadima which was really formed and kept together on the will of former Prime Minster Sharon claims it will not join any Likud-led coalition (but this is politics). Neither will Tzipi Livi and her party. And as for Labor, expect them to be the leaders of the opposition.
In the end, the yesterday's election was only the start. Buy the big bag of popcorn and fasten your seat-belts, the REAL Israeli politics are just beginning.