A false narrative has emerged in the wake of the election results. Apparently the big loser was incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the big winner was Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. The official coalition talks, which are set to begin on Sunday, have been described as the ruling party's ultimate nightmare; pundits have warned that the next government will be too fragile and hamstrung by Netanyahu's powerful coalition partners who will set its agenda.
It is likely that the small ceremonial event on Saturday evening during which President Shimon Peres instructed Netanyahu to form a government confused a great number of people. Over the last several days, when the representatives of the other parties appeared before Peres to suggest their preferred prime minister, Netanyahu was the only name mentioned and Peres was aware of that. Netanyahu not only had the overwhelming support of the Knesset, he was the only viable candidate for prime minister.
When the election dust settled and when the Likud-Beytenu officials got over the sour taste of seeing their Knesset faction shrink, they suddenly realized that Lapid, who was crowned as the kingmaker, may actually stay outside the coalition, and that the task of forming a government could actually turn out to be even simpler than the last time around. Apart from Lapid, the haredim and Habayit Hayehudi, there is also Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah, which is keen on entering the government this time. The same with Kadima, led by Shaul Mofaz, this time. Eighty-eight MKs-elect want to be in the government, and now Netanyahu just has to pick and choose.
If Lapid insists on having no ultra-Orthodox party inside the coalition, Netanyahu would still be able to accommodate him and leave them out, or alternatively, he could bring them in and keep Lapid out. The latter option would make Lapid the political outcast, ironically, rather than the haredim. If Netanyahu's troubled relations with Habayit Hayehudi's Naftali Bennett turn out to render them incapable of overcoming their past grievances, the prime minister can leave Bennett out and bring Livni in. In other words, the election leaves virtually all options on the table, and unlike in 2009, each party has its substitute party.
If Netanyahu has his way, his government would likely include Likud-Beytenu, Yesh Atid, the haredim, Habayit Hayehudi and Kadima. But it appears that Lapid's intransigence over the haredim and the statements he made that he would like to unseat Netanyahu in the next elections have somewhat reduced his chances of sitting in the government.
As for Labor, not all options have been exhausted. While it is true that some of its members have voiced unanimous support for staying in the opposition, when it comes to Labor, and particularly when it comes to politics, never say never. When all is said and done, even Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich would like to be a cabinet minister after almost seven years in the Knesset.