Few foresaw the surprising setback suffered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his Likud Party, and the right in general in Israel’s recent general election. It is an outcome that will have important ramifications for Israel’s domestic politics and foreign policy alike, particularly its Middle Eastern diplomacy.
Although the final vote tally awaits (soldiers’ votes have not yet been fully counted), the basic result is known.
Given the current stalemate between the right and left, a shift of one or two seats (out of 120) in the Knesset could make a difference in the composition of the next government, which in Israel is always a coalition of some type.
Netanyahu was the sole contender for the position of prime minister, and his reelection, together with the right-wing parties’ overall victory, seemed a foregone conclusion.
He and his allies were challenged by four parties or electoral lists — Labour, Yesh Atid, Hatnuah and Meretz — though their leaders (three of them women) were not perceived to be running for prime minister.
Three of these groups — Labour, Yesh Atid, and Hatnuah — were viewed as potential coalition partners in a Netanyahu government; the small, left-wing Meretz was expected to remain in opposition.
At this point, it seems certain that Netanyahu will form a new government, but he will be a much weaker prime minister than he was during the past four years.
The main winner was Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) emerged suddenly to pick up 19 seats and become the second largest party in the Knesset. Moreover, like the opposition, the right-wing bloc that comprised Netanyahu’s last government has undergone some important shifts.
Several developments converged to produce this unexpected outcome. For starters, the Israeli middle class and younger voters took the social protests of the summer of 2011 into the ballot box.
If Netanyahu thought that he had managed to take the steam out of the protests over high housing prices and falling living standards, he was proved wrong.