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Can Liberman reinvent himself again in Israeli politics?

Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Liberman has pledged not to sit in a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, but also not to join one supported by the Arab Joint List, creating a dilemma that could lead to an unappealing fourth round of elections.
Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, prepares to cast his ballot as he votes in Israel's national election at a polling station in the Israeli settlement of Nokdim in the occupied West Bank March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun - RC2IBF9YO4XV
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Just before Israeli polling stations closed at 10:00 p.m. on March 2 and news networks released their exit poll results, Yaakov Bardugo, an Army Radio political pundit with close ties to the Likud, proclaimed that Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Liberman no longer held the balance of power in the Knesset and that his party would almost certainly suffer a significant loss, after winning eight seats in the September 2019 election. The last polls before March 2 predicted a loss in strength for Liberman, after he sent the country into a tailspin in November 2018 by resigning as defense minister. With 92.5% of the votes counted, Yisrael Beitenu appears to have won seven seats. In other words, despite grim expectations and Bardugo’s prediction, Liberman only lost one seat, and that can be attributed to high voter turnout.

It was premature to eulogize Yisrael Beitenu, which had managed to reinvent itself in 2019 by positioning itself as a secular alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing/ultra-Orthodox bloc. Nevertheless, Netanyahu increasing Likud's seats by four, to 36 — leaving him only two seats short of his coveted 61-seat majority coalition — presents a challenge to Liberman’s status as the kingmaker who holds the balance of power. The modest press conference on election night at Yisrael Beitenu headquarters and Liberman’s tired face spoke for themselves.

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