After all the dust has settled, Israeli's hard-fought parlimentary election yesterday appears to have an ended in a virtual tie. So how is that going to work, exactly?
Benjamin Netanyau's Likud party lost more seats than was previously expected, and combined with the gains of the centrist and left-leaning parties, the two blocs have essentially split with 60 seats each in the 120-seat Knesset. (That's if you count the Arab parties on the left-hand side, but they won't actually be joining any coalitions.) The new reality leaves Netanyahu with the difficult task of trying to craft a working government out of electorate that's much more evenly divided than previously thought.
The most important thing is that Netanyahu will remain the prime minister. Unfortunately, for Netanyahu ... he's still the prime minister. His ruling coalition has been robbed of almost all its leverage, and there's a chance it may not even have an actual working majority when all is said done. His coalition will be smaller and his home party will be more conservative, pushing Netanyahu further to the right on key issues like settlements and Iran, at the same time that his stronger left-center opponents will be forcing him to limit his options. Netanyahu's best alternative appears to be abandoning the hard-right and Orthodox religious parties to form a more centrist coalition, but that might have even less chance of survival once hard-right parties take up the fight.
So what does that mean for Israel in real-world terms? For starters, most experts believe that a unilateral attack by Israel on Iran is now off the table. The parties advocating peace are stronger than they've been in years, and Netanyahu won't have the mandate to ignore the United Nations or an emboldened Barack Obama. The vote also signals declining support for the settler movement. Expanding Israeli claims on the occupied Palestinian territories is a deal-breaking issue for the most hardline Israelis. However, the centrist parties will insist on peace negotiations with the Palestinians as a condition for joining Netanyahu's government and those negotiations will go nowhere if the settlements are not halted or scaled back. The Orthodox parties many not care about a two-state solution, but that's the preferred option for the rest of the world and the new government will not be in a position to ignore those concerns.
In another strange twist, more than half of the Knesset's 120 members were thrown out of office yesterday, a situation that many other Western democracies might find envious. However, all that upheaval only means more uncertainty as to which course Israel will pave next.