The combined Likud-Israel Beytenu list posted a weak showing in Tuesday’s election, dropping markedly from its 42 seats in the current Knesset.
On the left, party leaders and activists gloated at the weakening of the governing party.
But in a system of multilateral coalition-building such as Israel’s, the interests of the ruling party are not necessarily those of its leader.
While the Likud is weakened, what Netanyahu is facing is far from a nightmare scenario. Rather, he is presented with a fateful choice — between a right-haredi bloc and a center-right alliance.
With the stunning entrance of an empowered Yesh Atid onto the political stage, Netanyahu could be pulled into the center-right where he is more comfortable. His domestic views and agenda will find ideological fellow travelers in Yesh Atid, while the centrist party’s sheer size will blunt pressure from the right wing of his party and from Jewish Home, which is home to large parts of the ideologically minded settler movement.
Tzipi Livni, leader of the underperforming Hatnua, has already suggested she would join Lapid in entering a Netanyahu-led government. Such a center-right coalition, together with the revitalized Jewish Home, which is desperate to sit in the coalition, would give Netanyahu close to 70 seats, depending on the final count — more than enough to maintain a stable government.
Even if Netanyahu prefers a right-haredi bloc, Yesh Atid’s success is an advantage. Netanyahu’s current list, together with Jewish Home and the haredi parties, have what looks like a slim majority between them.
But unlike the centrist Yesh Atid and Hatnua, Jewish Home and the haredim have fewer options for being in government. Yesh Atid’s ascendance means Netanyahu has other options, strengthening his negotiating position and the stability of even a narrow majority.
The strengthening of Yesh Atid may have solidified Netanyahu as master of the right, while opening the option for a right-centrist government that would look better internationally and could stabilize his political situation in any confrontation with Iran — his top policy priority for the past decade.