The good news is there won’t be a fifth election.
The bad news is there won’t be a solid rightwing coalition either (coincidentally, which is how Netanyahu prefers it), and the question now is, how constrained will the right be?
The entry of the Ra’am Arab party into the Knesset changes the numbers, no longer giving Netanyahu a natural 61 seats. But Netanyahu was wooing Ra’am before the elections, and might even have been the impetus for their split from the Joint Arab List, which means the two were in cahoots all along.
There’s no reasonable scenario where Lapid can form a coalition. It requires the right sitting with the radical left, and the anti-religious sitting with the religious. As much as Gafni is angry at Netanyahu right now for pushing Smotrich at UTJ’s expense, he knows he won’t have it better anywhere else.
Other Bennett-Saar-Lapid-Blue&White coalition ideas are being floated, but those are equally unrealistic (obviously not impossible, just highly unlikely).
After the soldiers’ votes are counted there might be another slight improvement in the rightwing bloc’s seats, but the situation will still be similar.
This means Netanyahu will be “forced” to make an agreement with Mansour Abbas (Ra’am), and hope Abbas doesn’t get too greedy now that he’s suddenly popular.
At a minimum, that means that Smotrich’s desired reforms for the Negev and the Bedouin land-grabbing will be off the table. It may also mean that any plans to regulate land ownership in Judea and Samaria could be at serious risk too.
Smotrich (and perhaps Bennett, if that interests him) will need to discuss Judea and Samaria in advance as a precondition for entering the coalition, making it clear their support for Netanyahu is also conditional.
Very likely, once Gantz sees that Mansour is supporting from the outside and Netanyahu can form a government, Gantz will probably join the coalition to “look out for centrist interests,” providing Netanyahu with 61 seats and no need for Bennett at all. In fact, it’s to Gantz’s benefit to jump in there before Bennett does.
Bennett could actually find himself once in the opposition once that happens. (Netanyahu won’t entirely want that to happen, because then he’ll be wholly reliant on Gantz again, and that didn’t work out too well last time).
But if that happens and Bennett is in the opposition, Smotrich is weakened too as the lone right-wing voice in the party, even if he is critical for the 61.
Ultimately, if Bennett and Smotrich want to ensure their influence and more powerful ministries in this new coalition, the two of them need to make an alliance now and face Netanyahu as a united front, otherwise he’ll just play them off one another.