With 98% of the vote counted it appears that the exit polls were accurate for a change and Kadima gained 28 votes, Likud 27, Yisrael Beitenu 15, Labor 13, Meretz 3 and Hadash 4. There is big news here. Up to a few days ago, a Haaretz poll predicted virtually the opposite result between Likud and Kadima. It appears Livini has pulled a few irons out of the fire and Bibi did his usual campaign fizzle as Assaf Oron predicted. Proto-fascist Avigdor Lieberman is the big news of this election as he absorbed almost all the votes that deserted Likud and doubled his previous number of mandates.
Shmuel Rosner noted that every Israeli election seems to provide a flavor of the month party whose “new message” turns it into the “new, new thing.” Voters flock to it and give it 10 to 15 mandates (Shinui, Pensioners Party, etc.). Before the ink is dry on the invitations to the Knesset opening, the party sells out whatever single issue it was formed to promote. By the next election, it has receded into the woodwork. Lieberman’s single issue this election was the loyalty oath for Israeli Arabs.
The difference between Yisrael Beitenu and those other parties is that Lieberman is the strong man of this party with a well-rounded rightist ideological message, and the others actually focussed more on an idea than a personality. Parties based on strong personalities (Sharon, Ben Gurion, etc.) tend to do better and last longer in Israel. So it is possible that Lieberman and his party will play a kingmaker role not just in this Knesset but future ones as well.
The big news on the left is that Meretz has imploded as almost anyone who followed their deterioration could have predicted. It waffled on the Gaza war and lost over half its mandates as a result. Even a prominent endorsement by Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken couldn’t revive it from the dead. Hadash, the former Communist party, was a winner and its steadfastness in opposing the Gaza war was rewarded by voters looking for a truly progressive (as opposed to waffling) party.
Labor is another loser which has progressively receded with each recent election. It’s 13 votes will not guarantee Barak a major portfolio even if he chooses to join a Likud-led coalition along with Lieberman.
The coalition math looks bleak for Livni. The only way she can form one is if she gains the support of Shas. Which is ironic considering that Shas was precisely the stumbling block in her forming the previous government and the reason she chose to go to the polls rather than accept their deal.
The only good result here is that whoever forms a government will have an exceedingly weak coalition. If Netanyahu leads the goverment he is hostage to the far right and Lieberman. If Livni forms a government she is hostage to Shas (if she can even gain their support in the first place). It is another recipe for political stasis, a status Israel can ill afford.
The result doesn’t bode well for Barack Obama’s peace efforts. Netanyahu has absolutely no interests in any serious negotiations with the Palestinians and will stall like hell if the U.S. attempts to pressure him. Livni might want to play ball with Washington but even if she tries, Shas will severely constrain her.
Of course, there are all sorts of bizarre possibilities: Likud could join with Kadima and even Labor in a national unity government which would politically look like a cross between a camel and an elephant and function just as smoothly. At least this might exclude Lieberman from a governing coalition.