Millions of Israelis voted Tuesday in elections to determine the makeup of their country’s next government. The two major lists are the center-left Zionist Union, a merger of Labor and Hatnua, whose candidate is Isaac Herzog, and the center-right Likud, whose chairman is current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Exit polls indicate that both parties will attain roughly 27 seats (with Channel 2 showing Likud at 28 seats). It was reported that 71.8% of eligible Israeli voters had cast their ballots, the largest turnout for an Israeli election since 1999. It appears that Netanyahu is better positioned to form a governing coalition, although the final outcome will be determined by coalition negotiations.
In order to form a government, the leaders of the various parties will recommend their preference for the premiership to Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, who will then decide who, mathematically, has the better chance to gather the 61 seats necessary to build a coalition government. Moshe Kahlon, the chairman of the recently-formed Kulanu party and former member of Likud, is expected to be the kingmaker in determining whether Netanyahu or Herzog will be the next Prime Minister of Israel. In January, Arab Israeli politicians formed the Joint List, unifying four Arab political parties. This party is expected to get 13 seats in the 20th Knesset, making it the third largest party. According to Channel 2, as of this writing, the further break down is: Yesh Atid – 11, Kulanu – 10, Jewish Home – 8, Shas – 7, United Torah Judaism – 6, Meretz – 5, and Yisrael Beiteinu – 5. Channel 1 reports that Yachad, a party on the far right, has four seats, which would strengthen Netanyahu's chances of building a coalition.
While Netanyahu and Herzog differ on socioeconomic issues, their views are close when it comes to the Iranian threat. Netanyahu has come out strongly against the expected nuclear agreement with Iran, stating in his address before Congress that the “deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them.” While supportive of diplomacy with Iran, the Zionist Union’s candidate, Isaac Herzog, has also expressed serious concerns the Iranian nuclear program. In a February op-ed in The New York Times, Herzog wrote, “When reasonable Israelis, Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians and others sound the same alarm bells about Iran, everyone should pause and beware of accepting an irreversible deal we might live to regret…”
In one of the most hotly-contested elections in recent memory, with possibly the highest voter turnout in nearly two decades, Israelis appear to have surprised previous polls by streaming away from smaller parties to strengthen both Likud and the Zionist Union.
Yet despite the apparent shift from the last set of polls released late last week, what still remained clear is that of the 10 parties that cleared the threshold for representation in the Knesset, only Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party emerged as a genuine kingmaker in the intensive coalition-building process that is to follow.
From early on, Kahlon has aimed his platform at what he perceives as the precise center of the Israeli political spectrum—hawkish on Iran, tough on terror, and an economic policy that could be called “social capitalism,” appealing to voters concerned about the standard of living but building on a pro-market record to achieve it.