JERUSALEM — The results of Israel’s fifth election since 2019 may not be confirmed until Friday, but the vote already demonstrates profound political and social shifts in Israel.
Should the current results stand, Mr. Netanyahu will re-enter office at the helm of one of the most right-wing governments in Israeli history.
But even if last-minute changes turn his lead into a stalemate, the election still constitutes a triumph for his far-right allies, a disaster for the Israeli left, a danger for Israel’s Palestinian minority and a sign of profound disagreement among Jewish Israelis about the nature of the country’s Jewish identity.
The far right has been mainstreamed.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s key far-right allies, once found traction only on the fringes of Israeli society. He was barred from serving in the Israeli Army because he was considered too extremist. He was convicted several times for charges including racist incitement and membership of a terrorist group. Until last year, he repeatedly failed to win election to Parliament.
Today, his far-right alliance is set to become the third largest parliamentary bloc, and the second largest in Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition. That will give momentum to the alliance’s goals of reducing checks and balances on lawmakers and giving politicians more control over the appointment of judges — setting the stage for a brewing constitutional crisis.
Mr. Ben-Gvir also wants to grant legal immunity to Israeli soldiers who shoot at Palestinians, deport rivals whom he accuses of terrorism and end Palestinian autonomy in parts of the occupied West Bank.
Israeli identity is up for grabs.
In some senses, the election was, once again, a referendum on Mr. Netanyahu’s personal suitability for office.
But the election campaign was also a debate about Israeli identity, and the extent to which Israel should be defined by its Jewishness. The current government highlighted Israel’s diversity: It was formed from eight ideologically diverse parties, including the first Arab party to join an Israeli governing coalition, and raised hopes of deeper Arab-Jewish partnership in the future.
But Mr. Netanyahu’s bloc presented that project as a threat to Israel’s Jewish character and also its security, and said its own victory would help reassert Jewish primacy.
“Today is the fateful battle, the fight between a Jewish state or an Israeli state,” Aryeh Deri, the leader of an ultra-Orthodox party in Mr. Netanyahu’s bloc, said on Tuesday. “Anyone who wants a Jewish state should wake up and vote.”
The Israeli left is in worse shape than ever.
Once the dominant force in Israeli politics, the Israeli secular left has been in decline for decades. But it has rarely had a worse result than on Tuesday, when Labor — once the main party of government — won around 3.5 percent of the vote, barely crossing the threshold needed to make it into Parliament. Meretz, a bastion of Israel’s beleaguered peace movement, may have missed the threshold entirely.
That would leave the Jewish-led left with just five seats in the 120-seat Parliament. And it would further shrink the minority of lawmakers supportive of a Palestinian state, reflecting how the two-state solution — still a talking point among diplomats and foreign leaders — is no longer considered a serious option, let alone supported, by much of Israeli society.
Israel’s Arab minority is also divided.
If Israel’s Jews are divided so, too, is its Arab minority, which forms about a fifth of the overall population of about nine million. This election highlighted how Palestinian Israelis markedly disagree about the extent to which they should participate in mainstream Israeli society.
Arab voters were split between those who support Arab involvement in Israel’s government, even if that forces them to downplay their Palestinian background, and those who reject it.
At least 170,000 people voted for Raam, an Islamist party that broke a taboo last year by joining the outgoing government, the first independent Arab party to do so in Israeli history. At least 130,000 voted for Balad, a Palestinian nationalist party that saw Raam’s decision as a betrayal, and at least 150,000 for Hadash-Ta’Al, an Arab-Jewish alliance that has ruled out joining a government but would consider supporting it in a vote of no confidence.
Israeli voters are resilient.
In the run-up to Israel’s fifth election in less than four years, analysts expected turnout to dwindle because of voter fatigue. The campaign had been brief and downbeat, and polling numbers barely changed in the buildup to the vote, suggesting a lack of engagement by voters.
Instead, turnout topped 71 percent — the highest level since 2015, six elections ago — as voters appeared motivated to end the cycle of repeat elections once and for all. For much of the day, the rate was higher than for any election since 1999, until a dip later in the day. Arab Israelis also voted in higher numbers than expected, topping 50 percent after fears that less than half would vote.
“It shows a certain resilience among Israelis,” said Mitchell Barak, a pollster and political analyst. “We’re just going out again, we’re voting and the politicians won’t tire us out.”