If even six months ago, center and center-left voters had been told that they’d be looking to Yisrael Beiteinu Chair Avigdor Liberman as a hindrance against the creation of another government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, most would either laugh or recoil in horror. Yet on the day of 2019’s second election, many of these same voters are now pinning their hopes for the future on an individual who not long ago was the poster boy for everything that had gone wrong in Israeli politics.

It wasn’t always this way. Liberman’s rise to the post of foreign minister a decade ago marked, for many, the beginning of Israel’s slow slide into illiberalism, Yisrael Beiteinu acting as the vanguard of blatantly anti-democratic and racist legislation. Those same voters cheered when, upon pushing for legislation that would raise the electoral threshold in the hopes of keeping Israeli Arab politicians out of the Knesset, Liberman nearly found himself in 2015 a victim of his own machinations. So too in April 2019, Liberman once again eked out just enough mandates to make it through, signaling that perhaps he was a spent political force. Yet, true to form, the former defense minister was able to reinvent himself by targeting the Haredi parties and casting himself as the protector of Israel’s secular majority.

Whichever way one spins it, is difficult to view such an embrace as anything but a sign of desperation by those citizens who have simply lost faith in the opposition’s ability to deliver an electoral victory. Suddenly, Liberman’s racism and contempt for the rule of law are seen, ironically, as a lesser evil in the face of yet another Netanyahu government that will likely be even more unmoored from democratic norms. Without Liberman’s mandates, the thinking goes, the prime minister will be faced with the likelihood of an internal revolt in his party. As such, the left’s “natural” bloc has, according to most polls from June onward, contracted slightly, with a likely explanation being a shift of votes towards Yisrael Beiteinu. But these voters are playing a dangerous game by instilling their hopes in a candidate acting within his cold political calculus, and whose actions following the results of the election may prove inimical to left-wing ambitions.

The first and more likely problematic scenario to unfold would be one in which Netanyahu succeeds in reaching the bare minimum of 61 seats without the need for Yisrael Beiteinu’s mandates. All polls conducted during this election cycle indicate that the prime minister does indeed fall short of his majority; however, given his past success in ramping up last-minute enthusiasm among his constituents (as he is doing now with unsubstantiated accusations of voter fraud), there is still a decent chance he’d be able to scrape by. In that case, we may see a repeat of 2015: Netanyahu successfully cobbles together a narrow coalition with Liberman on the sidelines, and the prime minister keeps a number of coveted ministries in his own hands in the event that the latter changes his mind. Fast forward a few months later after which he has realized his initial gambit to depose Netanyahu has failed, Liberman comes crawling back into the coalition, receiving one of said ministries.

Yet even a more optimistic scenario still poses problems. In the event that Netanyahu falls short, Liberman will rise to the role of definitive kingmaker. Liberman has repeatedly discussed pushing for the creation of a unity government, knowing full well Kachol Lavan head Benny Gantz has made clear his refusal to operate a rotation with a prime minister under indictment. He has therefore calculated — rightly or wrongly — that faced with such a dilemma, Likud MKs already seeking to rid themselves of Netanyahu will choose to depose the prime minister rather than face the prospects of wasting away in the opposition. Liberman will therefore have killed two birds with one stone: he will have finally ousted Netanyahu from power while keeping his word about preventing a coalition with the Haredi parties.

But observers should know by now that Netanyahu is most dangerous when he’s desperate, willing to make concessions to others in order to maintain his office, and a prime minister with only two weeks until his first pre-indictment hearing moreso. He will likely go out of his way to make Liberman an offer he simply cannot refuse: recall that at the eleventh hour of negotiations in May, Netanyahu promised then Labor leader Avi Gabbay and other Labor MKs a number of portfolios in exchange for a coalition majority. That was not the first time the prime minister caved to lopsided demands from his coalition partners. Liberman’s decision to sit in the opposition directly following 2015’s elections left Netanyahu at the mercy of the severely truncated Bayit Hayehudi, who received several high-ranking of portfolios well out of proportion to their number of mandates.

Given the already unprecedented promises he has made during this campaign it is well within the realm of possibility that the prime minister, at his lowest ebb, could offer his own form of premier rotation to Liberman in exchange for his mandates and support of an immunity law. In the face of such a generous and unprecedented overture, Liberman’s protestation against Haredi parties would likely ring even more hollow than it does at present, and be revealed for what many assumed correctly to be political posturing. Confronted with such a ploy, it’s difficult to see a political novice such as Gantz coming up with a way to prevent a deal between the two rivals from coming to fruition. He’d hardly be able to offer Liberman anything comparable, given his own deal with co-leader Yair Lapid, never mind the reaction elicited from his voter base who would, at the very least, be disturbed at the notion of Liberman coming anywhere near the premiership. In fact, Netanyahu needn’t even offer something so outrageous in order to win over Liberman; he will simply need to find something that Gantz, with his limited imagination, may find difficult to counter.

Since the collapse of coalition negotiations in late May, conspiracy theories have abounded that these new elections are simply a plot hatched between Liberman and the prime minister, in the hopes of establishing a more solid coalition. Even for someone as Machiavellian as Netanyahu, this seems far fetched and idiotically risky. Nevertheless, the bizarre reverence afforded to Liberman in some left-leaning circles is as dangerous as it is foolish. Liberman is not interested in the downfall of Netanyahu because of his sudden embrace of liberalism; he is simply tired of seeing the prime minister preventing him from amassing the power he believes he deserves. And if that power has to come at the expense of the left-wing bloc, there is no reason to believe he will not sacrifice the latter. And this time, the greatest irony is that he will have done so with the willing help of those who mistakenly vested in him a semblance of hope.