Israelis headed to the polls Tuesday to vote in a parliamentary election that will almost certainly hand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a third term in office. Recent polling has consistently predicted a victory for Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud Party. But Likud has slipped in the polls, and is now poised to win between 32 and 35 seats in the Knesset, down from the 42 it currently holds.
The real question now is who Netanyahu chooses to form his governing coalition.
At this point, it looks like Netanyahu will have two choices:
- He could form a relatively stable bloc with Israeli’s far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties — including the fast-rising, ultranationalist Jewish Home Party, led by charismatic up-and-comer Neftali Bennett.
- He can broaden his coalition by reaching out to centrist parties like the Yesh Atid party and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s new Movement party, which are expected to earn 12 and 8 seats, respectively.
There are compelling arguments for both options:
On the one hand, Jewish Home is expected to win the third-highest number of seats (~14), but it is not clear if the other far-right religious parties will win enough seats to form that coalition. A far-right government is also likely to exacerbate tensions with the international community, and put peace talks on hold, perhaps indefinitely. Jewish Home, in particular, takes a hardline position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and favours a one-state solution in which Israel would annex virtually all of the West Bank.
Netanyahu’s decision to form a far-right coalition could also hinge on what role he wants Bennett — his former deputy — to play in his government. Bennett has been publicly critical of Netanyahu since the pair had a fall-out several years ago.
Still, the Likud’s ideological roots are far more aligned with those of other right-wing parties, providing a common link that would create a rock-solid bloc on the Israeli right. Moreover, Netanyahu’s party has been losing supporters to Jewish Home, and the decision to form a government without that party could further weaken Likud.
A broader coalition including the centrist parties would temper the influence of the far-right. But it would also be much harder for Netanyahu to please these moderate factions, making it more likely that the government will be paralysed by the political gridlock that has often plagued the Knesset.
The big surprise would be a second-place finish by Jewish Home, which would limit Netanyahu’s room to manoeuvre when putting together his coalition. Early exit polls Tuesday have indicated a strong showing for Jewish Home, but we won’t know the full results until the final vote count is released, likely sometime Wednesday morning.
*This post was updated at 1:05 p.m.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.