He’s nicknamed “the magician” for his ability to escape political calamity. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hold on power appeared precarious Wednesday as nearly complete election results showed that his conservative Likud party and its allies fell short of a parliamentary majority.
With 95% of the votes counted, the rival Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz, fought Netanyahu’s party to a virtual draw. Gantz and his center-left political partners did not garner a majority either, but the 60-year-old former military chief might be better positioned than the prime minister to strike the necessary deals to forge a coalition government.
Most likely, weeks of difficult coalition negotiations lie ahead, and a final official tally is probably still days away, with absentee ballots still to be counted.
Yossi Verter, a political analyst for the Haaretz newspaper, wrote that Netanyahu, perhaps the ultimate survivor in Israeli politics, had never been “as close to losing power, to a trial and perhaps even to prison down the road.”
“It’s very hard to see how he can form the next government,” Verter wrote.
Trump — who in the past has eagerly endorsed Netanyahu’s narrative of a warm personal friendship between the two leaders — offered a coolly distancing observation when reporters asked him about the prime minister’s prospects
“Our relationship is with Israel,” the president said, adding that the two had not spoken about the inconclusive vote result.