BENJAMIN NETANYAHU’S claim of a “huge victory” in Monday’s Israeli election has turned out to be premature. The veteran prime minister thought he had broken a political impasse that has forced Israelis to vote three times in the past 10 months, and had won a new mandate after 11 years in office. But final results Wednesday showed that Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party and its right-wing coalition were still three votes short of a majority in the Knesset, or parliament. That probably spells a prolongation of the country’s political paralysis, but it also might save it from a larger disaster.

A foundation of Mr. Netanyahu’s latest campaign was the plan for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement rolled out by President Trump in January, seemingly in a deliberate effort to boost one of his most sycophantic foreign allies. Instantly rejected by the Palestinians and Arab states, the plan has little chance of engendering peace. Its real import is to provide U.S. backing for Israel’s unilateral annexation of large parts of the West Bank, a long-standing aspiration of far-right nationalists.

Mr. Netanyahu, who previously avoided such radical action, promised during the campaign to proceed with the annexations if he were able to form a new government with Likud’s right-wing allies. He no longer appears concerned about the possible consequences — which could include a crisis with neighboring Jordan and an acceleration of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel — perhaps because he now has the backing of Mr. Trump, whom he lauds as “the greatest friend Israel has ever had in the White House.”

Mr. Netanyahu will still be given the chance to form a government since the Likud party is the largest in the new parliament. He may try to induce a few individual members of the rival center-left alliance, led by the Blue and White party, to defect, or persuade Blue and White to form a broad “unity” government. But Blue and White and its leader, Benny Gantz, are likely to stick to the position that the party will not join any government under Mr. Netanyahu as prime minister because of his indictment and upcoming trial on corruption charges.

Instead, Mr. Gantz is seeking to gain support for a law that would prohibit Mr. Netanyahu from becoming prime minister while under indictment. That could break the political deadlock — and with a majority of 62 anti-Netanyahu members in the new Knesset, it has a chance to pass. If it fails, or court challenges block the law, Israel could be forced to stage elections once again.

That’s an exhausting prospect for the country’s politicians and voters, and it would mean the political rudderlessness would stretch past a year. But continued stasis would be preferable to actions that would make the eventual creation of a Palestinian state — and peace between it and Israel — all but impossible. In that sense, the curdling of Mr. Netanyahu’s “victory” should be welcomed by Israel’s friends.

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