A week after Israel’s September elections, it’s not yet clear whether Benjamin Netanyahu or Benny Gantz will helm the country’s next government. What is certain is that last week’s vote dealt the prime minister his most serious setback in the last decade, denying him an obvious path to the premiership as well as to immunity legislation. That alone is monumental, given Netanyahu’s ubiquity in Israeli politics over the past decades.

This past weekend offered a glimpse, however brief, into what may be possible once Netanyahu exits the political scene: three Israeli Arab parties from the Joint List recommended Benny Gantz to be prime minister. This was only the second time in Israel’s history that independent Arab parties recommended a Jewish-Zionist politician to be prime minister, and the first time since 1992, when Yitzhak Rabin took office.

Netanyahu and his ideas have held a central place in the Israeli political mainstream for over a quarter of a century, not only on the right, but on the center and left as well. One such idea is that an Israeli government must rely on a “Jewish majority” in order to be legitimate, which, by his own admission, has no legal basis. Netanyahu first advanced this argument as opposition leader in the 1990s in order to undermine Prime Minister Rabin, whose coalition depended on support from the Arab-Jewish communist party Hadash and the now-defunct Arab Democratic Party.

After Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, Netanyahu campaigned for the premiership on the slogan “Bibi or Tibi,” centering Israelis’ anxieties around the figure of MK Ahmad Tibi, then a member of the radical Balad party, who would have been unlikely to join even Shimon Peres’s left-wing coalition. That the presence of a handful of Israeli Arab members of Knesset, whatever their views, somehow constituted a threat to the state’s Zionist bona fides was a pernicious lie twenty-five years ago, and it remains so today. But Netanyahu’s political magic has always been his ability to put his opponents on the defensive.

The Israeli center-left’s strategy over the past two decades has been largely reactive, often mimicking Netanyahu in an effort to outdo him. In 1999, Labor’s Ehud Barak won 95 percent of the Israeli Arab vote in direct elections for the premiership. Yet unlike Rabin, Barak shunned the Arab parties once he set about forming a government, in effect internalizing Netanyahu’s “Jewish majority” concept. Barak’s decision, coupled with the police killing of twelve Israeli Arab demonstrators and one Gaza Palestinian in October 2000, nurtured a sense of betrayal, driving Arab voter turnout to an all-time low of 18 percent in 2001 from which it has never fully recovered in national elections.

In the ten years since Netanyahu returned the prime minister’s office, the taboo on independent Israeli Arab parties has become even more deeply embedded on both sides of the political spectrum. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election day warning in 2015 that “Arabs are flocking to the polls” has become infamous. Less well remembered are commitments by Labor leaders Isaac Herzog and Avi Gabbay to spurn the Joint List in government. In the lead-up to April’s election, Benny Gantz and his Kachol Lavan running mates issued similar pledges.

There are certainly members (and in the case of Balad, a whole faction) of the Joint List who would elicit genuine concern from any politician in Israel, left or right. However, discounting Arab parties wholesale does not feel like a substantive disagreement but a cheap facsimile of Netanyahu’s own commitment to a “Jewish majority” in government. Netanyahu cast his opponents as too friendly to Israeli Arabs, and so they set out to prove him wrong rather than challenge his premise. It is a politics driven by fear; specifically, the fear of how Netanyahu would spin things.

Then, last week, Benjamin Netanyahu finally looked like he might be a spent political force. It’s difficult to tell at this stage whether that impression will prove true or not, but as the election returns came in, some politicians on the Israeli center-left began to behave as though they were no longer afraid of the longtime prime minister. Benny Gantz spoke with Joint List leader Ayman Odeh and agreed to meet him. A week earlier, Netanyahu would have leveraged any such contact to reinforce his characterization of Kachol Lavan as perfidious Arab-lovers. Labor leader Amir Peretz went even further, calling on Gantz to include the Joint List in coalition negotiations. In the previous two election campaigns, Peretz’s predecessors vowed that, under their leadership, Labor would never join the Arab factions in government.

All of this culminated in the decision by three of the Joint List’s constituent factions to recommend Benny Gantz as prime minister (the fourth, Balad, withdrew their recommendation, claiming they had never been aligned with their colleagues on this question). That move was probably motivated more by eagerness to topple Netanyahu than love for Gantz, who was mum after the Arab parties’ endorsement and is unlikely to include the Joint List in a government. But, under Odeh, the Joint List’s actions nevertheless signal a new responsiveness to the concerns of their own Israeli Arab constituents who in survey after survey demonstrate consistent support for joining a coalition.

For now, Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz have acceded to President Reuven Rivlin’s call for unity talks. Both men appear to be playing for time, with each hoping that the other will independently try to form a government and fail. The stalling will give way to the Jewish High Holidays and Netanyahu’s hearing on October 2 on the fraud, bribery, and breach of trust charges he faces. From there, it’s difficult to forecast what happens next. Whether or not Netanyahu comes out ahead this time, it seems his political star is fading.

An entire generation of Israeli voters came of age with harrowing memories of the Second Intifada and with Netanyahu as the sole political constant. In this context, the prime minister has been able to set the tone for political debate and force his opponents to play along. Steps toward better integrating Arab parties in Israeli political life won’t suddenly extricate Israel from the occupied territories or fully resolve Jewish-Arab tensions within Israel itself. But the past week’s developments do demonstrate that with Netanyahu’s future uncertain, the prime minister’s rivals may be willing to break down the strictures he set and begin to start anew.