Six takeaways from the unclear Israel election results - analysis

The results of the three major TV stations’ exit polls left the picture very unclear on Tuesday night, but one thing is certain: No bloc has a majority of at least 61 seats.

Israel elections:time to vote. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel elections:time to vote.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
1. No one has a majority
The results of the three major TV stations’ exit polls left the picture very unclear on Tuesday night, but one thing is certain: no bloc, neither the Right nor the Center-Left, has a majority of at least 61 seats. We don’t know for sure which bloc is larger – the Right beat the Left in two of the three exit polls.
However, the numbers seem to be in the Right’s favor, as the Likud often does better in the real results than it does in exit polls, and while the Joint List said it might recommend Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for prime minister, its leaders have been noncommittal and historically tend not to recommend anyone.
Still, we simply do not know who will be tasked with building the coalition: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a sixth time, or Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, or perhaps, a different candidate from the Likud, though that is far less likely.
2. All eyes on Liberman
As expected, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman could very well be the kingmaker.
Liberman’s endorsement can push Netanyahu to a majority, and can put Gantz over the edge of 61 seats – if the Joint List recommends Gantz, as well.
The Yisrael Beytenu chairman has not committed to a candidate to recommend, though Blue and White has echoed his call for a unity government without haredim.
3. Unity
Liberman repeatedly said that he does not want to sit with the haredi parties, Shas and UTJ, and has called for a unity government between Yisrael Beytenu, Likud and Blue and White.
Of course, the big parties don’t need him for a majority and could very well form a government with just the two of them.
However, Blue and White has said it will not be in a government with Netanyahu, as long as he is under a recommended indictment.
And anyway, Netanyahu has reached out to his “natural partners” Yamina, Shas and UTJ, and promised to work with them, which means he is working toward the opposite of the “secular unity government” that was Blue and White’s slogan in the last weeks of their campaign. Of course, Netanyahu needs the religious parties to get enough recommendations to be tasked with forming a coalition, but he’ll probably need to abandon them to form a coalition.
There is another option for unity, which Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev of Likud mentioned in an interview right after the exit polls came out. Likud could take its right-wing majority and try to tempt someone from the Center or Left to cross the lines. It could be Labor-Gesher, or just Gesher. It could be one of the three parties making up Blue and White, or just a handful of their MKs.
4. Are Netanyahu’s days numbered?
It’s a question that’s been asked for years, and the answer was usually no, for those taking an honest look at the situation. But he didn’t win an obvious majority in this election, and he has a pre-indictment hearing with Attorney-General Avihai Mandelblit coming up in two weeks, complicating things even further.
If Netanyahu is not tasked with forming the next coalition, or if a coalition is impossible with him in it but possible for the Likud led by someone else – someone like Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan or popular Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar – then the Likud might push him out. In the meantime, Katz, for one, clarified that “Netanyahu was and remains the Likud’s only candidate for prime minister.”
The Likud rarely replaces its leaders, having had only four leaders in its entire existence, but it’s not a party of lemmings, either. Its top MKs may not remain loyal to Netanyahu for long.
5. It wasn’t about the turnout after all
Since this election was called there was a concern about low turnout due to election fatigue. As of press time, the concern seemed to be unfounded. While full turnout numbers for when the polls closed at 10 p.m. were not available, turnout at 8 o’clock was 63.7%, which was 2.4% more than turnout for the same time in April’s election.
The Joint List did get an expected boost from reuniting after running as two separate blocs in April, which means, as Netanyahu cried throughout the day, that Israeli-Arab turnout was likely higher than it had been. Only one exit poll gave the Joint List the 13 seats it had in the 20th Knesset, while the others gave them fewer.
6. The threshold hurts the Right, again
It’s ironic. When the electoral threshold was raised to 3.25% five years ago, it was expected to hurt the Arab parties, which fought it tooth and nail with support from the Left. However in the past three elections, it was the Right that had parties burn tens of thousands of votes without being able to clear the threshold.
In April, it was Zehut and even more so, the New Right. This time it’s Otzma Yehudit, which passed the threshold in half-a-dozen pre-election polls but didn’t make it in any of the exit polls, just as Netanyahu and Yamina’s leaders warned would happen. In both April and Tuesday, a right-wing government would have been a near-guarantee had those parties gotten into the Knesset.
It wasn’t about turnout, after all.