Benjamin Netanyahu’s main goal at this point is a government of at least between 65 and 67 seats. There’s no point in squeezing through with a coalition that would be living at the mercy of its members.
This leaves out a purely right wing government that would include Shas, Torah Judaism, Jewish Home and even Power for Israel. As much as our hearts are yearning for just this coalition, it doesn’t seem likely.
Besides its vulnerability, because of its size, it would not support the one issue over which Netanyahu has gone to the voter in the first place: the necessary budget cuts to cover a $10 billion deficit.
Two winners tonight, Yair Lapid with a projected 19 seats and Naftali Bennett with 12, would likely partner with Netanyahu in support of those cuts. Shas and Torah Judaism would likely balk at steps that would victimize their core voters.
So the first two alliances Netanyahu is likely to pursue should be Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi. That’s 62 seats, which is a good foundation for a government that can be expanded.
Tonight, Labor Chair Shelly Yachimovich spoke harshly and bluntly against going into a partnership with Likud-Beitenu, which she described as being on the opposite side of an ideological abyss. Whether or not she was planning to jump over said abyss — after tonight’s speech it would not be a simple feat.
It is possible that Netanyahu will put together his 62-seat government, and after he passes the budget cuts he would then start negotiations with Shas to join his government — and at that point, after starving them a little in the opposition he could get them cheaper.
It is vital for Netanyahu to position himself at the center of his own government, flanked to his right and left by his coalition partners. It would be terrible for him to be either the leftist edge of a right-wing coalition or the right winger in a leftist government. That makes Lapid and Bennett his ideal partners.
Incidentally, it’s important to note that, party for party, Lapid has as many if not more seats than Netanyahu’s Likud faction without Liberman’s Israel Beitenu. This may be just Lapid’s fleeting moment in the sun, or the start of an amazing career of a brilliant politician — no one knows. The same could be said about Bennett.
The coming negotiations with Bibi and his Likudniks would be a good testing ground for both gifted young men.
The big winner tonight is Yair Lapid, with a projected 18-19 votes. Together with Labor’s 17 votes, Livni’s 7, Meretz’s 7 and the Arab parties, they could present a 58 seat opposition which would need very little to be able to stop Netanyahu from cobbling the next coalition government.
That was the message Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On was announcing tonight, cautioning her leftist pals not to be lured into a Likud led coalition.
Yair Lapid will be calling the shots at this point. He may actually have more or just as many votes as Likud’s without the Avigdor Liberman faction. Interestingly, exactly 10 years ago, in 2003, his late father, Tommy, made a huge splash when his faction picked up 15 seats in that year’s elections.
It is doubtful that Bibi would settle for a right wing party with himself as the left wing marker. It’s not a good recipe for a stable government. Personally, I would like nothing better, but as far as Bibi is concerned, such a decidedly right wing government is also a recipe for isolation.
And so, the most logical choice for him at this point, would be a deal between the largest three factions in the Knesset – his own, together with Lapid and Yachimovich. It would upset the six knited yarmulkas in Likud, but it would place Netanyahu in a comfortable place with 66 to 67 seats. He could add or drop Livni for good measure, but not at a senior role.
So, it’s up to Bibi – a right wing government with Bennett and the Haredim, or a center-left government with Yair and Shelly.
It is not a good night for religious Zionism.