Well, the exit polls are in and there are a few surprises for sure. I have put them into a table for easy reading, along with the final prediction from Knesset Jeremy (KJ), who does an average of the polls, along with some sort of proprietary modelling to adjust for momentum. Finally, I averaged the three exit polls (Channels 1, 2, 10), which we can consider my calculated “prediction” (AVG). The actual results will shift a bit in the coming week or so as absentee ballots are tabulated.
First, I would like to note that simply averaging the exit polls yields 119 seats, however, there is a system of sharing “surplus votes” (when a party doesnt have enough votes to be assigned another seat. Of the five parties that have an average that is not a whole number, only Likud and Bayit Yehudi have a “surplus vote agreement”, so I gave the seat to them. Likud specifically, but it would go to whoever has the bigger remainder votes. The two parties will be joining forces, so it does not matter who gets it in the analysis.
The big surprise is Likud and Labor making a huge gain over the polls. In Israel, there is frequently a party that the undecided voters seem to break for. In 2013, it was Yesh Atid. In 2009, it was Kadima. In 2006, it was Gil. This year, it looks like Likud won the last minute votes, with Labor picking up a few also. I had predicted myself that Kulanu would make the break, but they stayed true to their numbers.
This break for Likud is good news for Netanyahu and right-wing voters. It ensures there is no dispute that the second ranked party forms the government, as occurred in 2009 when Kadima beat Likud, but Likud had better coalition options. That was the case again this time, however it seems that it will be moot. Lets take a look at the coalition options for Likud and Netanyahu. They need 61 seats to form a government.
Off the bat, Likud and Bayit Yehudi will join forces, yielding 36 seats. This is better than the Knesset Jeremy prediction of 34. While the parties are supposed to go in rank to recommend a prime minister, I will skip that and go to Yisrael Beiteinu, who contributes 5 seats for a total of 41. At this point, things become a bit rougher. While Netanyahu has promised Moshe Kahlon the Finance Ministry, Kahlon may opt to support Labor. However, this is unlikely with Likud leading, so I will award those 10 seats to Netanyahu, bringing us to 51.
Bibi now has two options: coax Yair Lapids secular Yesh Atid party (11) into the coalition or go with the two Haredi (ultraorthodox) parties (13). Either option would put him over 61. In my ideal world, he would pick Yesh Atid, and while Yair Lapid has pledged to recommend Labor, he will likely be open to joining Netanyahu. This would produce a narrow 62-seat coalition built on secularism and centre-right values. It has been noted by some that Netanyahu likes to play lesser parties off against each other by making it unproductive for them to leave his government unilaterally. With such a narrow coalition, Kulanu or Yesh Atid could bring down the government. Thus, the prime minister may opt welcome a Haredi party in addition to Yesh Atid. Shas is currently more left-wing economically, so the better and more likely option is United Torah Judaism. This gets us to 68 seats. If Shas joins too, then it would be 75(!), a fairly large coalition. Netanyahu can then laugh at anyone who wants to leave because they would not be able to bring new elections, and thus have nothing to gain outside the government coalition.
With the continuance of Netanyahu and the peace process being stuck in the sand, economics have been the main issue. Likud and Labor fought bitterly over who would help out the middle class, while Yesh Atid and Kulanu claimed to fight for the middle class. Moshe Kahlon wants and has been promised the Finance Ministry. Previously, he was the Communications Minister and deregulated the cell phone industry, garnering him much popularity. Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu), longtime Foreign Minister, who rarely got to exercise that position due to his blunt rhetoric, has his eyes set on the Defense Ministry. While his five seats cannot be exchanged for such an important position, his loyalty for years might. This would be unusual considering that he has only reached the IDF rank of corporal (sergeant is typical for end of service). Defense Ministers usually have been generals, altho a recent one was a captain. With Yair Lapid pushed out of Finance and the Foreign Ministry open, that may be tapped for him. He certain would be a great choice for that position, a likeable man and a former news anchor (he is photogenic). Another option is the Economics Ministry, currently held by Naftali Bennett.
The process of apportioning the seats, swearing in the MKs, and then choosing a prime minister and coalition is a bit complicated and takes a few weeks. The MKs are expected to be sworn in on the 31st, at which point the process can begin. A government should be formed by the end of April, at which point we can start figuring out the direction Israel will take for the next likely four years (which may be Netanyahus last). With help from Hashem, there will be much economic reform to greatly liberalize the Israeli economy, bringing benefits to all and encouraging more aliyah.