So the impression we had late yesterday from early exit polls that Netanyahu’s Likud Party had outperformed late polls to tie or pull slightly ahead of the main opposition Zionist Union coalition has given way today to a clear-cut Likud advantage of about 30 Knesset seats to 24 for Zionist Union. Obviously, this increases the odds that Netanyahu will be able to re-form a government–perhaps the very hard-right coalition he sought in calling for an early election–though as of this writing nothing is absolutely certain.
The balance of power, it appears, is still held by the Likud breakaway party Kulanu, which strongly objects to the current government’s economic policies. And the official who will actually empower one of the top two election leaders to form a government, Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, publicly encouraged a “national unity government” including Likud and Zionist Union, shortly before the polls closed.
What seems clear despite the remaining uncertainty is that Netanyahu finally broke the “open secret” of his opposition to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, demagogued Arab voting in a way that calls into question his commitment to full democracy, and appeared to benefit politically.
If Bibi does remain prime minister, some pretty big questions will be posed to the United States, where maintaining a US veto in the United Nations against the recognition of a Palestinian state will become more difficult given a formal abandonment of negotiations by Israel–or so one would think given the long bipartisan tradition of support for a two-state solution. Now that Netanyahu has become the GOP’s favorite political leader, that tradition is likely dead, adding the Israel-Palestine conflict to the long list of issues where Democrats and Republicans stand on completely different ground. We’ll probably have more about that later today.