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The significant stumble of Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister and Chairman of

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister and Chairman of the Likud Party, speaks after early exit polls in the general election, at the Likud party final election event in Tel Aviv, Israel on Sept. 17, 2019. Credit: EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/ABIR SULTAN

Sure, Israel’s election results are confounding, and that country’s political system complex. But there is one clear result from Tuesday’s voting: Benjamin Netanyahu lost.

He might somehow continue as the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, but now that would have to be in a new coalition that would not go along with promises he made during the election campaign. Specifically, the headline-grabbing pledge to annex parts of the West Bank is dead.

Middle East experts were alarmed by Netanyahu’s intention to extend Israeli sovereignty to land captured from Jordan in 1967. If he thought it was a good and reasonable idea, helpful to his nation’s security, why didn’t he do it a decade ago? It was clearly a ploy aimed at winning more right-wing votes. The ploy flopped.

As of Thursday night, with the counting almost complete, Netanyahu’s Likud Party had won 31 seats out of 120 in the Knesset. The upstart Blue and White Party, formed early this year principally to depose Netanyahu, had won 33. When combined with likely coalition partners among the nine parties that won seats this week, neither Netanyahu nor the Blue and White can harvest 61 — the number needed to control a majority in the Knesset and thus govern the country.

Viable ideas traded in round-the-clock meetings and phone calls among party leaders include a broad “national unity coalition”: putting Blue and White at the same cabinet table with the Likud Party — but perhaps on condition that Netanyahu retire. But what might entice the prime minister to walk away?

Think of Richard Nixon, the only American president ever to resign.  He chose to quit in August of 1974 rather than be impeached and removed from office, and within a month, his successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned Nixon so that no prosecutions could ensue.

Netanyahu is facing three corruption cases that could turn into indictments and court dates early next month. One reason he made radical promises and claims in the election campaign was his desperation to avoid a trial and possible prison time. A prime minister, while in office, is practically immune from prosecution.

An immunity bill, if passed by a new majority in the Knesset, could be a fitting farewell gift to a prime minister who went several steps too far. During the campaign, Netanyahu chose to adopt Donald Trump's  method of insulting his political foes, describing the media as leftist enemies, and promising to fight any White House peace plan if it should call for partial withdrawal from the West Bank and an end to building Jewish settlements there.

Netanyahu seemed to believe he was irreplaceable, as if Israel’s impressive economic and military strength depended mostly on his increasingly narcissistic and bombastic leadership.

Wider implications can be seen in other parts of the world. Perhaps Prime Minister Boris Johnson also has gone several steps too far in forcing Britain’s Parliament into an unwanted recess to prevent any curbs on his dangerously uncoordinated exit from the European Union. In Italy, the self-proclaimed populist Matteo Salvini absolutely went too far in trying to force new elections — believing that he is a unique superstar — and could not even keep his job as deputy prime minister. 

Netanyahu, Johnson, and Salvini are all Trump-like. As those foreign versions lose their electoral magic, there could well be implications for America’s president and the chance that his White House show will not be renewed next year.     

Dan Raviv, senior Washington correspondent for i24News, is co-author of “Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance.”

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