TEXT: Most likely Benjamin Netanyahu will again be the prime Minister of Israel. But whether he will be heading up a coalition that is more centrist or more conservative is an open question. To form a government Mr. Netanyahu needs the votes of at least 61 members of the 120 seat Israeli Knesset. Before the election Netanayhu’s Likud party, which recently joined with the mainly Russian émigré party, controlled 42 parliamentary seats. That bloc lost a quarter of those seats and now has only 31. So in the weeks ahead there will be intense negotiations to determine which among the smaller parties will be willing to join a new Netanyahu coalition.
Before the election it was widely predicted that the new ultra-conservative Jewish Home party would come in second, thereby taking the next Israeli government significantly further to the right. The leader of the Jewish Home party is Neftali Bennett, a 40yr old former Israeli army commando, who was profiled in last week’s New Yorker magazine. Evidently Bennett made a fortune as a software entrepreneur while living for a time on New York’s Upper East Side. He is now a Jewish settler leader who completely rejects any notion of a Palestinian homeland and wants to annex much of the West Bank - the core of any future Palestinian state. In Bennett’s words, “ I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state.”
While Bennett’s Jewish Home party failed to become the number two party in the Knesset, it did win 12 seats which means it will certainly be in the mix in the coalition negotiations.
But the big surprise of the election was Yair Lapid, an attractive, prominent journalist and former television anchorman, who last year founded the centrist party known as Yesh Atid which is Hebrew for There is a Future. Having won 19 seats his party is now the second largest in the legislature which makes Mr. Lapid a major factor in the formation of the next government.
What conditions Lapid will set for joining forces with Netanyahu are unclear, as his election campaign focused almost entirely on domestic matters. The one issue which appeared to have the most resonance was his demand for an end to special treatment for thousands of ultra orthodox Jews who are exempted from compulsory military service and allowed to opt instead for full time government subsidized religious studies. If Lapid sticks with that demand it will complicate matters for Netanyahu who will still need religious party backing to get to his majority.
As to whether the future Israeli government will be more amenable to resuming serious negotiations with the Palestinians and/or less determined to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, at this stage no one can say with certainty. But it is significant that while most pundits expected this election to result in an even harder line Israeli government, it now seems that will probably not be the case.
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