TEL AVIV - With all eyes on the expected rise of Naftali Bennett, the poster boy of the settler movement, it was centrist Yair Lapid, a former newscaster, who emerged as the rising star in Israeli politics following Tuesday's election. In the process, he served up an all-you-can-eat buffet of crow to the chattering classes.
To be fair, Israeli elections are hard to predict. The Times of Israel's Raphael Ahren noted that polls are deeply flawed in Israel, and dark-horse candidates often surge unexpectedly. But this election's wrong-headed guidance, mostly forwarded by analysts in the United States, went beyond the numbers -- it was wrapped up in their narrative of where Israel was heading.
Pundits declared that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was preparing for a war against Iran while building more settlements, and the Israeli people roundly backed him. As David Remnick wrote in the New Yorker, "the story of the election is the implosion of the center-left and the vivid and growing strength of the radical right" -- a process that would buttress Bibi's policies and, in the process, isolate Israel from the United States.
This, to put it mildly, did not happen.
Netanyahu's coalition party won an estimated 31 seats -- a far cry from the 48 seats he initially expected after merging parties with right-wing politician Avigdor Liberman. And after all the hoopla, Bennett's party, Jewish Home, only managed to earn 11 seats.
The center-left, meanwhile, surged. Lapid and his new Yesh Atid Party took second place with an estimated 19 seats, followed by the left-leaning Labor Party, which captured an estimated 15 seats.
At last count, according to Israeli television, the Israeli public was split straight down the middle, 60 seats for the left and 60 seats for the right, with religious parties capable of defecting to the left if offered the right deal.
There is a high probability, given Likud's numbers, that Netanyahu will remain prime minister. But the Israeli electorate, by giving voice to the left, has changed the tone and tenor of the next Israeli coalition government, which will invariably include a broader spectrum of views on everything from Iran to the peace process to a host of domestic issues.