Ahead of Tuesday’s election, all the party leaders, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on down, spoke to reporters and analysts constantly, in order to try to get out the vote.
But once the polls closed Tuesday night, most of the politicians suddenly became completely silent. The quiet was not because they were tired.
The only party leaders who sought the press on Wednesday were obvious winners like Ra’am (United Arab List) head Mansour Abbas and Labor leader Merav Michaeli.
The others made a strategic decision to wait to talk again – at least until the results of the election were complete.
With 97% of the normal ballots counted, Netanyahu’s Likud won 30 seats, Yesh Atid 17, Shas 9, Blue and White 8, United Torah Judaism, Yamina, Yisrael Beytenu and Labor 7, New Hope, the Joint List and the Religious Zionist Party 6 and Meretz and Ra’am 5. There still remain some 430,000 double envelopes, which are ballots from hospitals, nursing homes, emissaries, soldiers, prisoners and special polling stations for returnees at Ben-Gurion International Airport and for the sick and quarantined from COVID-19.
The double ballots are worth some 11 seats – enough to change the outcome of the election significantly in a race so close.
But the press and the public, which have been focused on the elections since they were initiated in December, already began speculating about what government there could be based on the preliminary results. Here are several possible options:
Netanyahu/Right/Abbas = 64: This would include the 52 seats of Likud, Shas, UTJ, Religious Zionist Party plus Yamina’s seven, with Ra’am’s five supporting the coalition from outside. Likelihood: Relatively high, despite promises from Religious Zionist Party head Bezalel Smotrich not to rely on Abbas. Otzma Yehudit head Itamar Ben-Gvir would not have to be part of such a coalition, but Smotrich would.
Anti-Netanyahu camp + Ra’am = 61: the 56 seats of Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor, Joint List, New Hope and Meretz, plus Ra’am’s five again. Likelihood: Relatively high if Abbas decides to join efforts to end Netanyahu’s political career in return for being appointed the first Arab minister from an Arab party.
Yamina ousts Netanyahu = 62: This scenario is the same as the anti-Netanyahu one, except that Yamina replaces the Joint List. It would comprise the 50 seats of Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor, New Hope and Meretz, plus Yamina’s 7 and Ra’am’s 5. Likelihood: Very low.
Defectors from New Hope to Likud: New Hope head Gideon Sa’ar and former minister Ze’ev Elkin burned too many bridges with the Likud, but former MK Sharren Haskel has not. Former MK Yoaz Hendel could join her in Likud despite his sharp criticism of Netanyahu. Assuming Bennie Begin, who is sixth on the New Hope list, would retire again, the seventh candidate, Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevy, could return to Likud for a cabinet post. Likelihood: Low.
Defectors from Likud to New Hope: No one wants to join a sinking ship, but there are still plenty of Likud MKs who privately bear a grudge against Netanyahu. Hendel said that when he sought Likud defectors in the past, there were several who were prepared to come then and still remain in the party. Likelihood: Low.
Fifth election: There will likely be two candidates given a chance by President Reuven Rivlin to form a government. If they both fail and no one gets the support of a majority of the Knesset after that, elections will be held again in October.If a government is not formed immediately after the election, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz would automatically become prime minister on November 17, due to laws passed when the outgoing government was formed. Likelihood: Low.