by Adam Gonn
JERUSALEM, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- After all of the votes in the Israeli parliamentary elections held on Tuesday were counted, it became clear that while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud- Yisrael Beitenu bloc was to become the largest party in the next parliament, his position would be significantly weaker than before the elections.
When Netanyahu in last October announced that Israel would head to early elections, his Likud party together with Yisrael Beinteinu party had 42 of the 120 seats in the Knesset (parliament) , but in the new one they will only have 31.
"Netanyahu's expectations were much higher in terms of the percent of people voting for him, but he didn't get it, so there are an equal number of Knesset members on his side and on the other side," Prof. David Nachmias, of the Interdisciplinary-Center in Herzliya, told Xinhua on Wednesday.
The other side that Nachmias referred to is the center-left side which is mainly made-up of Labor party under the chairwomanship of Shelly Yachimovich that received 17 seats, Yesh Atid party founded last year by former newsman Yair Lapid that got 19 and HaTnua under former foreign minister Tzipi Livni that received seven.
The big surprise was the strong showing of Lapid who with his 19 mandates has become a bit of a kingmaker.
Prof. Eran Vigoda-Gadot, of the University of Haifa, told Xinhua on Thursday that the tough part for Netanyahu won't just be to put together a coalition that would give him a majority in the Knesset, but also one that will remain stable for a number of years.
"There are many alternatives for a coalition. There are almost endless options. But something has been changed since Jan. 22, the voice of the citizens of Israel is another one," Vigoda-Gadot said.
He added that the victory for Lapid's party was a sign that people want change on secular issues such as the equal obligation of all citizens to serve in the military or to do national service. And this is something which Netanyahu won't be able to ignore when he puts together his new coalition.
Nachmias said that "if Netanyahu wants to have a coalition that will have more than 61 Knesset members that would be stable... It' s really up to Lapid and if he will stick to his principles we may have a long term coalition without the ultra-orthodox parties."
He was referring to the ultra-orthodox Jewish Shas party, who was a key partner in the previous government and received 12 mandates in the elections.
While theoretically the government only needs 61 mandates to have a majority in the Knesset, Netanyahu will most likely try to establish one which has around 70 seats to insure himself that no party, except his own, will have too much influence over the policies and stability of the government.
Vigoda-Gadot predicted the basis for the new government would be Netanyahu and Lapid, and with almost no doubt that Livni will join and almost certain that the small Kadima party of Shaul Mofaz will join them, and once they do that all the rest would like to come.
"Netanyahu is going to use these new circumstances as a platform for some radical changes, because Netanyahu is a very clever guy and he understands that this is his chance to do something that wouldn't have been possible unless the distribution wouldn't have been like they are," Vigoda-Gadot said.
He added, "so it's a good excuse for Netanyahu to deviate from the original lines of his former government and Netanyahu is pragmatic enough to do that."
One possible change would be not to include Shas in the next government, as the main voter base for Shas are ultra-orthodox Jews who have no burden of mandatory military service and also don 't have to work as they receive payment from the government while studying religious texts.
Lapid has announced that one of his two red-lines for joining the government would be that the exception on military service for the ultra-orthodox be lifted and that renewed efforts made to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
One possible choice could be the right-wing HaBayit HaYehudi party, which has gone from a fringe party with three seats to 12 mandates under its new leader Naftali Bennet.
While Bennet is considered to be even more right-wing than Netanyahu, Nachmias said that he didn't see a problem for Lapid to sit in the same government with Bennet.
"There will also be moderation in this case as Bennet would probably move more to the center and Lapid would move towards the right, and they can sit together," Nachmias said.