The confetti did not appear on the big parties' election vacations in Tel Aviv last night. For although incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's challenger Benny Gantz appears to have a small takeover when almost all the votes are counted, none of them appear as a clear winner.

"Referendum on Netanyahu"

The election has been seen as a referendum on Benjamin Netanyahu himself.

And the extremely smooth election result itself appears to be a humiliating blow to "Bibi".

Israel's longest-serving prime minister chose to dissolve parliament this spring, rather than allow former army chief Gantz to try to form a coalition government.

In recent weeks, Netanyahu has led an intense election campaign aimed at forming a nationalist right-wing coalition with Israel's two ultra-Orthodox parties.

Those hopes now seem to have been shattered.

"Lieberman kingmaker"

No party has ever won its own majority in an Israeli election. It is important to be able to form a coalition government. And just as after last spring's election, Russian-born right-wing nationalist Avigdor Lieberman's party YisraelBeitenu retains the role of guardian.

Liebermann, who just a year ago was Netanyahu's defense minister, has sworn to participate only in a unifying government that includes both Gantz's "Blue and White" and Likud.

He does not want to cooperate with the religious and ultra-Orthodox parties that Netanyahu hoped to form government with, and he calls for a stop for ultra-Orthodox Jews' exemption from the general military duty.

"Netanyahu's future at stake"

Liebermann's demands for a unifying government put Netanyahu's political survival at risk. Former commander Benny Gantz has said he refuses to sit in the same government as Likud unless Netanyahu is replaced.

In the next few weeks, prosecution is expected to be brought against Netanyahu in three major corruption cases. A formal prosecution would increase the pressure on Netanyahu to step aside if he does not have immunity.

In the coming days, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is expected to appoint a candidate to form government. If the first candidate is not successful within six weeks, another candidate may get the chance. In theory, new elections can be called for. Meaning the third election is something few want to see in Israel at present.

“I don't think anyone is prepared to take the risk with a third choice, not even Netanyahu. Maybe it's time to say goodbye, ”columnist Nehum Barnea writes in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot.