WITH Benjamin Netanyahu in the midst of the biggest crisis of his political life, after taking a battering at the ballot box, one man could throw him a lifeline: Avigdor Lieberman.
The Blue and White party beat Netanyahu’s Likud party by a narrow margin in Tuesday’s election, according to the exit polls available as The AJN went to press. The results could well mean that Blue and White gets the opportunity to try to build a coalition.
Blue and White is responding by urging Likud to enter a unity government – but dump Netanyahu as a prerequisite. “Now it’s up to the Likud to act in the national interest,” Blue and White spokesman Yair Zivan told The AJN.
Analysts say that they expect Netanyahu to try everything possible to pull a rabbit out of the hat, and return to office as Prime Minister.
“It’s a fight for his life, and not just his political life,” political scientist Eran Vigoda-Gadot told The AJN, explaining that Netanyahu is thought to have been desperate for a clear victory so he could pass legislation to protect him from prosecution on corruption charges.
If exit polls prove wrong and final results put Likud ahead of Blue and White, the margin is expected to be very tight.
This means that even if Likud gets to try coalition-building instead of Blue and White, it could fail as it did after the April election, and force a third election.
One man has the power to wave a magic wand and end Netanyahu’s troubles. Tantalisingly for the PM, the right-wing appears to have enough seats that if he could convince his former ally Avigdor Lieberman of Israel Beytenu to back a rightist coalition, he could return to office.
If Lieberman – a former defence minister and foreign affairs minister – were to agree to such a scenario, even if Blue and White has a narrow lead in final results, the president would be likely to task Netanyahu with coalition-building, as the party leader with the best chance of success.
But Lieberman – a political chameleon who could comfortably sit in a government headed by either party – is demanding a government without Orthodox parties. Both Likud and Blue and White are realising that their best chance of power lies in coming up with a coalition proposal that Lieberman will throw his weight behind, crowning the often controversial politician the kingmaker of Israeli politics.