Despite the fact that the leftist-liberal media in Israel and the world were salivating over a "weakened" and "rebuked" Netanyahu, in reality he will remain Israel's prime minister and will lead a right-tilted government. As a matter of fact, the election results and his options in forming a wide, stable government could make Netanyahu even stronger than he ever was in his previous term.
If he wishes, he can immediately establish the same right-wing government similar to the one he just led consisting of 61 members from only right-wing political parties such as Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi and the ultra-religious parties Shas and United Torah Judaism and still will have one member to spare. However, having Yesh Atid - the socially centrist party of Yair Lapid which won 19 Knesset seats - in the government will make Netanyahu and Israel even stronger.
He will be able to lead a government of 80 members out of 120 members of parliament and will be less vulnerable to political blackmails by any one party. No one but he will be the chief power broker.
Moreover, joining with Lapid, a perceived moderate and the darling of the elite and liberal media who advocates social conscience issues, will help change the perceived extremist rightist Netanyahu government's international image into that of a moderate centrist government and could ease tensions with the Obama administration, the Europeans, and the leftist media.
While Lapid and the ultra-religious parties seem to be preoccupied mainly with social and economic changes, Netanyahu will have a bloc of at least 80 members who support the continuation of the current government's policies on foreign and security issues.
However, Netanyahu cannot bring in Tzipi Livni and her tiny party of six to the government. For the last few years, she has been a cheerleader for Abbas and Obama and a chief basher of Netanyahu internationally. Her campaign of targeting Netanyahu's security and diplomacy agenda was rejected overwhelmingly by the voters.
Following the elections, a New York Times columnist said the "tepid vote for Netanyahu in Israel is seen as a rebuke," and another column stated that "Netanyahu emerged weakened and chastened." It is true that the bloc of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu lost some seats in the new parliament compared to the previous one, but still Netanyahu's team came in first, twice as strong as the left-leaning Labor Party of previous prime ministers Rabin, Peres and Golda Meir.
Much more, Netanyahu's perceived strength cost him votes. Since Netanyahu entered the race as an overwhelming favorite with no obvious challengers, many voters who believed he was guaranteed to be the next prime minister felt comfortable to vote for the other smaller parties in the center and ultra-right in order to influence the composition and the agenda of the next government.
The media and world leaders who were falsely warning for months of Israel's extreme rightward drift now are wrong again by proclaiming the results as a victory for centrists and as a sign of the voters' discontent with Netanyahu's path with respect to the Mideast peace process and the negotiations with the Palestinians. Roger Cohen at the New York Times wrote "The public were unhappy with Netanyahu's relegation of the Palestinian Israeli relationship to somewhere behind the back burner" and "They rewarded a party (Yesh Atid) that wants to change that."
Yesh Atid, however, cannot be accurately described as centrist when it comes to the so called peace process.
Like most ultra-right wingers, Lapid has stated that Jerusalem cannot be divided under any circumstances and insists that standing firm on this issue will force the Palestinians to recant their demand that east Jerusalem serve as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Moreover, during the campaign, Lapid chose the West Bank settlement of Ariel as the place to give a major campaign speech calling for unconditional negotiations with the Palestinians, and declined to endorse a settlement freeze in the West Bank's major settlement blocs. In fact, Lapid's views on security issues are close to those of Netanyahu and represent the emerging new consensus of the Israeli public.
Israelis are willing to negotiate with the Palestinians on the two-state solution, but the violence of the second intifada and the threat of rocket attacks from Gaza have made them hesitant to support dramatic peace overtures. Therefore, a majority of Israelis believe that the Palestinian issue should stay on the back burner until there is a partner for negotiations, and Abbas is too weak to be that partner. Instead, they agree that Israel should concentrate on blocking a nuclear Iran while turning internally and making Israel stronger socially and economically.
Any other interpretation of the elections results is wishful thinking.
Shoula Romano Horing was born and raised in Israel. She is an attorney. Her blog: www.shoularomanohoring.com