There are a lot of unknowns in the immediate wake of Israel's parliamentary elections, but one thing seems rather sure: President Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu's had better days. That might seem like a misleading statement at first, since Netanyahu almost certainly held on to his job as Israeli prime minister. His role in the new ruling coalition, however, is more complicated. Some even called the election results a "humbling rebuke" for the Israeli prime minister.
The predominant word being used in the Western media to describe Netanyahu's new position in the Israeli government is none other than "weak" or "weakened," depending on the context. That's not great news for the prime minister. Once again, however, he might find comfort in the fact that he's still prime minister. That is, if he can overlook the fact that he now has to forge a coalition with a new centrist party called Yesh Atid ("There is a Future") led by Yair Lapid, a politically inexperienced television personality with a passion for, to borrow The New York Times's words, "kitchen-table issues like class size and apartment prices."
Open-minded pundits might say that Netanyahu won the battle, but he lost the war. To shake the cliche off that sentence, the Israeli prime minister will likely keep his post at the top of the country's governmental hierarchy, but this week's election has landed him in a more politically volatile position, one that compromises his ability to negotiate openly with countries like the U.S. about pressing issues like Iran's seemingly determined quest to gain nuclear capabilities. While we're still riffing off the exit poll numbers, it seems sure that Netanyahu's conservative party has lost a number of seats, finding itself on an equal playing field with said celebrity Yair Lapid's centrist party. To distill the situation into a newspaper headline, we turn to The Wall Street Journal: "Israel Vote Weakens Premier." You might prefer The Washington Post's slightly more narrative take: "Netanyahu emerges weakened from Israeli elections."
The details of the election results and their implications are complicated and, again, so far undecided since we're working on exit poll data here. Everyone in Israel, especially the leaders, seem acutely aware that there's going to be a shuffling of the cards in the government bureaucracy. That doesn't necessarily mean that there will be sweeping policy changes, but the fact that Yesh Atid is the runner up means that Netanyahu must find some middle ground in forming a coalition if he wants to preserve his influence over Israeli policy. It could actually turn out to be a good thing for Bibi.
But the question on everybody's mind is: What will this election mean for the peace process? You won't have a hard time finding five different answers to this ostensibly simple question. But take The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg's word for it: "The next coalition -- even if it is center-right, rather than hard-right -- is going to have a hard time selling a revitalized peace process." In other words, fresh election notwithstanding, there's nothing truly new going on in Israel.