During a historic void in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu was afforded the opportunity to remain at the helm for longer than any other Israeli prime minister in history, even longer than those of its major figures, like the founder Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, and the two generals, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon.
He has long been the strongest figure in the Likud... and the strongest among partners when forced to share leadership with others. He has embarrassed residents of the White House with his contempt. Who can forget that time he leaped over Barack Obama’s head to the podium in Congress, or when, after Bill Clinton asked him to release two Palestinian prisoners suffering from cancer, at the behest of Yasser Arafat who had asked him to do so during his visit to Gaza, Netanyahu chose to arrogantly reply: "This a state of law, and things do not work like that here," instead of being polite.
Amid a void without major figures, Netanyahu was called king in Israel. The state was strong, or gaining strength, with its institutions, and parties turned into puppets in his hands. He shaped its domestic and foreign policies to suit his ends, to stay at the helm of his party, remain the leader of his alliances, and keep his hold on state power, for as long as possible.
His visits to the US were an occasion to celebrate. Indeed, he might deserve a spot on the Guinness Book of World Records for the number of times he has received a standing ovation in Congress.
The latest edition of Netanyahu began when he was surprised to win a comfortable victory in the last parliamentary elections, and “in Israel, a margin of one or two votes seems comfortable and even decisive.”
The strong and smart Netanyahu, a man who goes all in, was betrayed by his intelligence this time... He did not pay close enough attention to the fact that his was a crown of thorns put on by the four parliamentarians who had carried him to the leadership of government. He did not ascend to the throne he was accustomed to, but to a prison where he went from being a ruler to being ruled. Every time he thought of liberating himself, even slightly, the jailers, Ben Gvir and Smotrich, along with their accomplices, threatened to topple him. They could do so by simply not attending any vote in the Knesset. That would be enough to send him home; that is, if he manages to reach a settlement that keeps him out of prison.
Netanyahu has become a burden on himself after having gotten used to leading even his opponents. He has also become a burden on Israel, which has lost many of its strength and advantages over the first few months of his latest term in office. The army, passing and the economy have taken a hit, and protests against misconduct seem perpetual. In fact, he was forced to traverse the few kilometers separating his house in Jerusalem from Ben Gurion Airport in a military helicopter.
His strong and entrenched position in Israel concealed the fact that he had become a burden on the US, as well as the region and the peace and stability of the Middle East. He used to enter the White House unannounced, leaving his imprint on Middle East policy as though he were one of the pillars of that house.
But now... after many months of knocking on the door, no one in the White House has answered. He could enter through a backdoor that grants no privileges... the door of the United Nations, which everyone can enter without permission. There, no applause would await him; the number of occupied seats may even be sparse, if the hall is not empty.
I believe... that Netanyahu's status is in severe decline, and that the scale of losses Israel has incurred under his leadership has been unprecedented. Betting on what is called his knack for taming the lunatics is not tenable any longer.
In Israel, there is much talk about who will replace him in the Likud and in the government, a bad omen indeed.