Veteran Israeli commentator Nahum Barnea likes to compare Israeli elections with the old joke from the British Army during the First World War. After several weeks of tough fighting the commander gathers his troops and tells them there is good news and bad news. The good news is that you can all change your underwear. The bad news is that you need to swap with each other.
So, Benjamin Netanyahu looks set to form a very similar government to his last, including the two Orthodox parties and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, who could seek a to return to the Finance Ministry. Likewise, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beteinu may want to return to the Defence Ministry he quit in December, demanding a more robust approach to Hamas. It is far from certain that Netanyahu will allow that, especially since the understandings being formulated by Egypt looks to be moving in a positive direction.
But there is no doubt that Netanyahu is the big winner of the election. Despite the shadow of corruption charges, he managed to increase Likud’s share of the seats. The dominant election issue was a referendum on his leadership and he got an impressive mandate. He should now overtake the legendary David Ben-Gurion to become the country’s longest serving leader later this year.
Credit also goes to his main rival, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. In a matter of months he created a party, united the centre and galvanised large numbers who believed in his alternative vision. The challenge for him now is his staying power in the less glamorous role as Head of the Opposition.
And despite some unpleasant rhetoric during the campaign, this was another victory for Israeli democracy. Amid threats of cyber-attacks and foreign manipulation, Israel confounded its critics and proved yet again to be the only vibrant democracy in the region.