They started counting the votes in Israel, but the picture emerging is clear; PM Netanyahu was and will be the leader of Israel. This blog has consistently predicted troubles for Bibi Netanyahu, unless a political miracle can happen, much the same as in 1996, when the last 48 hours of the campaign gave Likud the final edge. It happened again, as Netanyahu managed to change the entire tenor of the campaign, turning it from a campaign over domestic issues to one over the issue on which the right wing in Israel has a built-in advantage: WE [Israel, the Jews] and THEM [the world, the left...].
It is not only the Palestinian question, which the left runs from as if from fire; it is not Iran, which Bibi raised so much, including in Congress; it is the sense of many Israelis that if there is a worldwide desire to see him out, then it is they who are wrong, and he who is right. Welcome to Israel, where the voting patterns do not resemble those in the west, and cultural, national security considerations are uppermost on the minds of voters when the impression of a siege is in place. And siege mentality is there, as many voters decided that in a time of external pressure, a sense of isolation and perceived existential threats, the questions of bread and butter are in second priority.
So, who are these voters? It is the old Likud-led coalition of Mizrachim [Jews from Arab countries], Olim from Russia and the religious vote. This coalition seemed to break up, judging by polls and so many other signals, but the cement which worked before worked again. Nationalism and religion, we against them. Against the establishment of media, academia and big business in Israel, and almost the entire world which has shown its preference to the Labor Party in a big way. The victory of Likud is however not a clean sheet of success. Bibi managed with his last-minute campaign of "we against them" to check the Labor party, but he did this by weakening other right-wing and religious parties, and now he has a problem; these parties will run to his embracing bosom, so they are in his new coalition, but that means that he has to make good on his campaign promises, and key among them is no Palestinian state. Does he really mean it? Does he really believe that he now has a magic formula to mend fences with the rest of the world? President Obama, for example?
Netanyahu may still face a problem with the party of Moshe Kachlon, who left the "new" Likud in order to re-establish the "old/Menachem Begin" Likud, and a leader who will end up with 9-10 seats, which will be enough to demand the treasury. All this remains to be seen, exit polls are what they are, but they give a clear trend. Yes, there is the possibility of Likud joining forces with Labor, establishing a large unity coalition, but the chances are slim. Netanyahu will be the old-new PM. He personally must feel, and from his perspective, rightly so, as the great winner. Winners usually do not change, they feel vindicated if anything.