Exit polls show opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc achieving a parliamentary majority in Israel’s national elections. Channels 11‘s exit poll gives Netanyahu 62 Knesset seats, Channel 12 has him at 61 and Channel 13 at 62.

While encouraging for Netanyahu, exit polls are far from final, with voting tallies passing from local to regional election committees until finally ending up in the hands of the Central Elections Committee.

Interim results will be announced Tuesday night, but official results won’t be known until Thursday and likely not announced until Friday afternoon.

In Israel’s proportional representation system, which encourages a multiplicity of parties, no party can alone win enough Knesset seats to form a parliamentary majority. They must form coalitions in order to govern. In Israel’s case, the minimum number of Knesset seats required is 61 (out of a total of 120).

If the exit polls accurately reflect the final results, Netanyahu will have a fairly easy time reaching that goal. As he is the politician most likely to be able to form a government, Israeli President Isaac Herzog will grant him 28 days to build his coalition. If he needs more time, Herzog has the power to grant him a 14-day extension. During this period, coalition partners will wrangle over ministerial and other positions in the new government.

However, should the final results show that Netanyahu’s “natural coalition” falls short of a majority, his job will prove especially difficult. He has become a polarizing figure, particularly among the political elite, where several one-time allies have joined the opposition.

In the last election in March 2021, ideologically right-wing parties garnered 72 seats. A Likud leader who controlled 30 of those seats should have had no trouble building a coalition. However, leaders of two of those parties were former Netanyahu allies turned adversaries who categorically refused to join him.

Then, the left-wing opposition, despite falling well short of 60 mandates, formed a government thanks to the unlikely support of Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Yamina Party, and Ra’am, an Arab Islamist party.

Some said that coalition, which included parties from across the political spectrum, spelled the end of ideological politics in Israel in favor of a more practical politics. Coalitions would form around what could be done, (building better roads and policing), rather than staking out unbridgeable positions on settlements or a Palestinian state.

However, the breakup of the coalition over religious and Arab issues after only a year suggested the opposite; that parties holding opposite ideological viewpoints can’t cohere despite the benefits of power and the success in keeping Netanyahu out of government.

Israel’s political deadlock over the recent elections reflected Israeli voter deadlock. Despite a series of elections, (Tuesday’s was the fifth in less than four years), the public didn’t change its voting patterns, even though it doesn’t appear to share the same animosity towards Netanyahu that the political elite does. Polls consistently show a large majority picking Netanyahu as the most suitable leader to serve as prime minister.

The public wasn’t getting what it wanted. Last time around, it voted right and received a Bennett-Lapid coalition. To ensure a right-wing government, enough Israeli voters would have to choose Likud or one of its reliable religious partners. If the exit polls prove correct, the public has finally done that.

If the results of the exit polls prove transitory and the public hasn’t made the necessary change, will its political leaders?

Benny Gantz tried it after the March 2020 election. As leader of Blue and White and head of the opposition with 33 Knesset seats, he surprised everyone by reaching across the aisle and joining with Netanyahu in a power-sharing agreement.

Yet, Gantz has become a cautionary tale. He quit the government after concluding that Netanyahu wouldn’t fulfill his end of the bargain. In the next election, Gantz’s party dropped to 8 seats and leadership of the opposition passed to Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid Party, who had refused to join with Netanyahu. The lesson politicians likely have drawn is that intransigence pays.

If nothing changes, Lapid continues as interim prime minister until the next election. That could be many months away.

JNS

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