Ne­tanyahu re­jects calls to quit as Is­rael po­lice seek in­dict­ment

PM says po­lice case ‘full of holes, like Swiss cheese’

Kuwait Times - - International -

JERUSALEM: Key coali­tion part­ners said yes­ter­day they would stick with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu for now, pend­ing a de­ci­sion by the at­tor­ney gen­eral whether or not to in­dict him for bribery as rec­om­mended by po­lice. A de­ci­sion could take months and Ne­tanyahu’s gov­ern­ment ap­peared sta­ble for the time be­ing. The right-wing premier has strongly de­nied the po­lice al­le­ga­tions, call­ing them “full of holes, like Swiss cheese”.

“I want to re­as­sure you, the coali­tion is sta­ble. No one, not I, not any­one else, has plans to go to an elec­tion,” Ne­tanyahu told a con­fer­ence in Tel Aviv yes­ter­day, the day after po­lice made their rec­om­men­da­tions pub­lic. “We will con­tinue to work with you for the good of Is­rael’s cit­i­zens un­til the end of the term,” he said. Po­lice on Tues­day said they had found suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence for the 68-year-old Ne­tanyahu to be charged with bribery in two sep­a­rate cases, pre­sent­ing him with one of the big­gest chal­lenges to his long dom­i­nance of Is­raeli pol­i­tics.

It is now up to Is­rael’s at­tor­ney gen­eral to de­cide whether to in­dict Ne­tanyahu and this could take some months to re­solve. Ne­tanyahu has de­nied wrong­do­ing in both cases. With po­lit­i­cal sig­nals that the gov­ern­ment re­mained solid, Is­raeli mar­kets rose on Wed­nes­day. De­fence Min­is­ter Avig­dor Lieber­man, who heads the ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist Yis­rael Beit­enu party, said that as long as Ne­tanyahu was not con­victed he should stay in of­fice. “Truly, right now we are op­er­at­ing in a very syn­chro­nised way,” he said. “There is no place here for ma­neu­ver­ing, for any other con­sid­er­a­tions,” Lieber­man told the same con­fer­ence.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­nett, who heads the far­right Jewish Home party, told the gath­er­ing: “I have de­cided to wait un­til the de­ci­sion of the at­tor­ney gen­eral ... Re­gard­ing the moral as­pect, the pub­lic will de­cide on vot­ing day.” Fi­nance Min­is­ter Moshe Kahlon, who heads the cen­trist Ku­lanu party, said he would do the same. Avra­ham Diskin, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at the He­brew Univer­sity of Jerusalem, said none of Ne­tanyahu’s coali­tion part­ners had any in­cen­tive to rock the boat. “We don’t see for the time be­ing any sign of de­fec­tors from the coali­tion. Maybe in­di­vid­u­als will de­fect,” Diskin told Reuters. “I don’t see any kind of col­lapse in the fore­see­able future.”

Sig­nalling busi­ness as usual, Ne­tanyahu has not changed his plan to at­tend the an­nual Mu­nich se­cu­rity con­fer­ence that be­gins on Fri­day. Ne­tanyahu draws po­lit­i­cal strength in part from his close ties with US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who in De­cem­ber re­versed decades of US pol­icy by recog­nis­ing Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael, a move hailed by Is­raelis although Pales­tini­ans - who claim East Jerusalem for the cap­i­tal of a future state - and lead­ers across the Mid­dle East were dis­mayed.

After al­le­ga­tions, Is­rael gov­ern­ment ‘sta­ble - for now’

‘Be­gin­ning of the end’

One of the cases against Ne­tanyahu, known as Case 1000, al­leged the “com­mit­ting of crimes of bribery, fraud and breach of trust” by the prime min­is­ter. Po­lice named Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood pro­ducer and Is­raeli cit­i­zen, and Aus­tralian busi­ness­man James Packer, as hav­ing given gifts that in­cluded cham­pagne, cigars and jew­elry to Ne­tanyahu and his fam­ily. In all, the mer­chan­dise was worth more than one mil­lion Is­raeli shekels ($280,000), the state­ment said. Any le­gal pro­ceed­ings would prob­a­bly fo­cus on whether po­lit­i­cal favours were sought or granted. Ne­tanyahu’s lawyers said the presents were sim­ply to­kens of friend­ship.

On Tues­day night, Is­rael’s Chan­nel 10 tele­vi­sion quoted a lawyer for Milchan as say­ing that oc­ca­sional gift-giv­ing was de­void of any busi­ness in­ter­ests. In an emailed state­ment a spokesman for Packer said: “There is no al­le­ga­tion of wrong­do­ing on Mr Packer’s be­half. The Is­raeli and Aus­tralian po­lice have con­firmed that he was in­ter­viewed as a wit­ness, not a sus­pect.” The sec­ond in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Case 2000, al­leged “bribery, fraud and breach of trust by the prime min­is­ter” re­lat­ing to his deal­ings with Arnon (Noni) Mozes, pub­lisher of the big­gest-sell­ing Is­raeli news­pa­per Ye­dioth Ahronoth. Ne­tanyahu and Mozes, po­lice said, dis­cussed ways of slow­ing the growth of a ri­val daily news­pa­per, Is­rael Hayom, “through leg­is­la­tion and other means”. Po­lice said they be­lieved there was suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to charge Mozes with of­fer­ing a bribe. Navit Negev and Iris Niv-Sabag, lawyers for Mozes, said in a state­ment: “Noni Mozes has strong le­gal ar­gu­ments in his favour, and we be­lieve that after an ad­di­tional ex­am­i­na­tion of the ev­i­dence by the prose­cu­tor’s of­fice the case against him will be closed and it will be­come clear that he com­mit­ted no crime.”

JERUSALEM: This com­bi­na­tion of pic­tures shows Is­raeli at­tor­ney gen­eral Avichai Man­del­blit (left), Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu (cen­ter) and the chief of the Is­raeli po­lice, Com­mis­sioner Roni Al­sheikh in Jerusalem. Is­raeli po­lice have rec­om­mended that Ne­tanyahu be in­dicted in two cases of al­leged cor­rup­tion after a long-run­ning probe.—AFP

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