Assuming that Netanyahu and his Likud party have triumphed, the question is why. I’ll leave to Israeli analysts to provide a definitive answer if they can. My suspicion is that Netanyahu owes his victory in no small part to President Obama.
From all accounts I’ve read, economic considerations favored the opposition Zionist Union. And after almost ten years of Netanyahu, Israeli voters were probably experiencing Bibi fatigue (as much as I admire the Israeli Prime Minister, he is rather fatiguing).
Netanyahu’s main strength is his strong posture regarding the PA, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. But as I understand it, Israelis were not terribly impressed with his showing in the most recent Gaza war; many thought he pulled Israel out too soon.
In any case, Netanyahu’s advantage on these related issues had not been enough to produce a lead in the pre-election polls. But there was always the hope (at least on my part) that when voters had to pull the lever (or however one votes in high-tech Israel), they would think above all else about national security and, accordingly, tilt towards Netanyahu.
Obama’s stridency towards Netanyahu probably made this scenario more likely. I suspect that Israeli voters were fearful that in the two years of his presidency, Obama would step up his efforts to push Israel into an unfavorable agreement with the Palestinians. And Israelis surely are fearful of the deal Obama is cooking with the Iranian regime.
In fairness to Netanyahu’s opponents, I don’t assume that they would have made unreasonable concessions to the Palestinians or that their approach to Iran would have been materially softer than Netanyahu’s. But with Netanyahu, Israelis can be confident of a hard line. With the opposition, which Obama and his operatives have backed, they could not be as confident that Obama’s full-court press would fail.
Obama must be hugely disappointed about the election. Will it occur to him that he quite possibly helped re-elect Netanyahu (assuming, still, that this is the outcome)?
I doubt it. Already the left is attributing Netanyahu’s victory to alleged “racism” in his final campaigning. This explanation is unconvincing, but it provides a convenient and familiar place for Obama to hang his hat.
UPDATE: As I said, Netanyahu’s victory is not a done deal. The exit polls suggest that Likud and the opposition Zionist Union will end up with basically the same number of Knesset seats. Either party could be called on to form a government. However, the Washington Post says that Netanyahu “might have an edge in building a coalition from the top 11 parties that drew enough votes to seat their candidates in parliament.”
I gather that Netanyahu does, indeed, have the edge. However, if he is edged out at the wire, the question would be why he did better than expected. My answer is the one set forth in this post.