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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

The myth of Netanyahu's invincibility may be about to unravel, but there is no hope for Palestinians

The toxic legacy of the Israeli prime minister, who will stop at nothing to save his skin, will endure long after he is gone

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been named as a suspect in criminal investigations by Israeli authorities
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been named as a suspect in criminal investigations by Israeli authorities

Benjamin Netanyahu will become the longest-serving prime minister of Israel if he completes his current term in office. The “if”, however, has gained tremendous weight over the last few months. The man once seen as invincible is now the focus of criminal investigations that may, if allowed to proceed properly, prove that he is eminently vincible.

Last Friday, Mr Netanyahu’s former chief of staff turned state’s witness. To make matters worse, Mr Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, is also under investigation for alleged misuse of public funds at the prime minister’s official residence. And their notoriously vexatious son, Yair, has meanwhile been branded a “fascist” living in a “twisted reality” by children of one of Mr Netanyanhu’s predecessors after he published a vitriolic Facebook post accusing his critics of being in the pay of foreign interests hostile to Israel. Sympathy for the Netanyahus in Israel, never that high to begin with, is at its nadir.

Under assault from all sides, Mr Netanyahu has decided to brazen it out. His attorney general is perceived by many Israelis to be dragging out the investigations to protect the prime minister. And the Likud party is whipping its elected officials to fall in line behind the prime minister, who, it says, can continue in office even if he is indicted.

Mr Netanyahu lashed out at a rally with supporters on Wednesday. Among his targets were the Israeli left, “fake news media” and the Oslo accords of 1993. This is a sign of things to come.

Mr Netanyahu is a master manipulator. His ability to put up smokescreens and create distractions has long been the secret of his survival. Palestinians and the region at large are bound to become casualties of his drive to remain in office at all costs. As his own former defence minister, Ehud Barak, said during last month’s violent protests at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, Mr Netanyahu will “set the country and the region alight just to extricate himself from the menace of the investigations”.

None of this is not to say that Mr Netanyahu’s departure would result in relief for Palestinians. His potential successors (Gideon Saar, Yisrael Katz and Gilad Erdan within Likud, and Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman from Israel’s far right) are as extreme as – or even more extreme than – he is. A country incapable of correcting itself, one that is ever more uncomfortable in its own skin and unwilling to make peace: this is the tragic legacy of Mr Netanyahu’s long reign. Even as he limps on, he has effectively stymied almost any hope for a just resolution or a fair settlement for Palestinians. And that is an even greater tragedy.