Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is back from the brink — or so he says.
The Donald Trump ally declared his “biggest win” ever after Monday’s election, the third in a year of ongoing political crisis in Israel, the Washington Examiner reported — but critics argued that Netanyahu was spinning a more inconclusive result in his favor. The embattled leader was in the fight for his political life as he faced a referendum on his leadership amid an indictment for corruption.
Netanyahu declares victory
While votes were still being counted, Netanyahu declared the “biggest win” of his career thus far early this week as exit polls showed his right-wing coalition winning a majority of seats in the Knesset. Critics, meanwhile, cried “fake news.”
“This is a victory against all the odds because we stood against powerful forces,” Netanyahu said early Tuesday, according to Fox News. “They already eulogized us. Our opponents said the Netanyahu era is over.”
By Thursday, the final tallies made clear that Netanyahu had fallen short of a majority, ABC News reported. His right-wing coalition assembled 58 seats, including 36 for his right-wing Likud party — three short of the 61 needed for a majority, according to ABC. The leader’s primary rival, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, got 33 seats.
But the setback didn’t stop Netanyahu from continuing to declare a landslide rebuke of his foes. “The Likud and the right won the election in a knockout,” he said Thursday, according to an Associated Press report.
Bibi on the brink
“Bibi” was indicted on fraud, bribery and corruption charges last year, making him the first sitting Israeli prime minister to face criminal indictments. Mirroring Trump, he has consistently blamed “fake news” and hostile prosecutors for driving a “witch hunt” against him.
He was desperate to win the election, which came two weeks before he is set to face trial on March 17. Under Israeli law, he does not have to resign in light of the indictments, according to ABC, but his rivals have floated legislation that would block him from forming a coalition.
Indeed, while Monday’s results were good for Netanyahu, they didn’t necessarily spell the end of his career woes or the country’s political crisis. His failure to win a majority left open the possibility of yet a fourth election, after two previous elections in September and April had failed to establish a government.
The crisis continues?
Netanyahu could now form a unity government with Blue and White, but establishing a coalition could prove difficult. Gantz has refused to form a government with Netanyahu because of his corruption charges, while Netanyahu has accused Gantz of trying to “steal” the election and “linking up with terror supporters,” Haaretz reported.
Another factor, ABC notes, is the role of Avigdor Liebermann of the secular nationalist Yisrael Beytenu party, which won seven seats. Liebermann, who is considered a kingmaker, is said to favor Gantz for prime minister — but Gantz could have trouble forming an anti-Netanyahu coalition that includes Liebermann’s nationalist party and the largely Arab Joint List parties, which has a rivalry with Liebermann. The Joint List now has 15 seats, making them the third biggest bloc in the parliament.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, has continued to accuse his enemies of undermining democracy by denying his right-wing bloc a mandate to govern. Still, it seems Netanyahu’s recent victory is a little more complicated than it looks.