Is This the Beginning of the End for Netanyahu?

If the United States weren’t in the midst of its own “constitutional crisis,” a headline like this would be big news: “Israel Moves to Hold New Election as Netanyahu Fails to Form a Coalition.”

Seven weeks after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared “a night of tremendous victory” in Israel’s election, his failure to form a government by midnight Wednesday has turned into a stunning debacle for him and thrust Israel into a new election.

Israelis will return to the ballot box in about three months, the first time in the country’s history that it has been forced to hold a new national election because of a failure to form a government after the previous one.

To maintain his parliamentarian majority, Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party needed to form a coalition government with right wing secular ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox factions. A refusal by those parties to compromise on proposed legislation about military service made that impossible. But here is a critical element of the story.

Facing possible corruption charges, Mr. Netanyahu had less political wiggle room to turn to more liberal parties and failed to assemble the 61-seat majority required to form a government.

In other words, Netanyahu’s legal challenges removed any leverage he might have had in threatening to turn to liberal parties if conservatives didn’t compromise.

As David Horovitz reported, Netanyahu didn’t see this one coming.

For two years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been charging that his enemies are pursuing a “vendetta” to push him out of office. As criminal investigations against him gathered pace, he blamed the opposition, the media, the police, the state prosecution hierarchy and the attorney general.

On Wednesday, he was proven right. But it was none of these purported antagonists who forced him, just 50 days after he appeared to win one general election, to call another because he was unable to form a majority coalition. It wasn’t one of the derided “leftists” upon whom Netanyahu has focused so much vitriol. Rather, the enemy pursuing the vendetta was his own former longtime aide, now his nemesis, Avigdor Liberman.

Beyond the importance of Israeli politics to this country’s foreign policy, the dynamics of what is happening to Netanyahu might be instructive. The Israeli prime minister has staked his reputation on dominating others through bullying and intimidation. As Josh Marshall explains, there is now a growing sense of weakness and vulnerability casting a shadow over Netanyahu as he appears to be in trouble legally and failed to put together a governing coalition. For someone who depends on dominance, their power is undermined when people don’t fear their threats.

In terms of what happens next, the first polling indicates no movement yet.

The first opinion polls taken since the Knesset dispersed Wednesday night and set new elections for September 13 showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be unable to form a coalition without Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party — precisely as was the case over the past seven weeks, when Netanyahu failed to muster a majority because Liberman wouldn’t come on board.

This is not likely to be the end of Netanyahu, but at this point, it sure looks like it might be the beginning of the end.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.