Cor­rup­tion scan­dals have some Is­raelis pon­der­ing a post-Ne­tanyahu world

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY LAURA KELLY

Af­ter 11 years run­ning the re­gion’s most powerful and eco­nom­i­cally dy­namic na­tion, the reign of Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu has suf­fered a ma­jor blow in re­cent days as mount­ing le­gal pres­sure en­velop­ing him, his wife and close as­so­ciates on charges of cor­rup­tion and fraud have some Is­raelis pon­der­ing the prospect of a post-Ne­tanyahu fu­ture.

Mul­ti­ple con­spir­a­to­rial cases of le­gal scan­dals in­volv­ing the Ne­tanyahus have gone from back­ground noise to the fore­front in the past few days since in­ves­ti­ga­tions in four cases be­gan months — or even years — ago.

The com­bat­ive, con­ser­va­tive Mr. Ne­tanyahu is one of the world’s long­est-serv­ing lead­ers and has se­cured his grip on power do­mes­ti­cally, unit­ing a coali­tion govern­ment and a na­tion be­hind his vi­sion of a se­cure and pros­per­ous Is­rael that is not shy about press­ing its own na­tional in­ter­ests.

Nei­ther war nor ter­ror­ism has threat­ened his power — they may ac­tu­ally have strength­ened it — but his sin­gle-minded de­sire to re­tain and strengthen his power and in­flu­ence by any means may now threaten to ini­ti­ate his down­fall.

“The sus­pi­cions of cor­rup­tion against [the prime min­is­ter] are reach­ing a crit­i­cal mass, cast­ing a pall over his con­tin­ued ten­ure in of­fice,” the Is­raeli news­pa­per Haaretz, a fre­quent critic of Mr. Ne­tanyahu, wrote in its lead editorial last Mon­day.

Is­raeli law en­force­ment and of­fi­cials are near­ing a po­ten­tial in­dict­ment against the prime min­is­ter, and de­spite no law in the coun­try com­pelling his res­ig­na­tion, pub­lic pres­sure could force Mr. Ne­tanyahu to step down as pre­mier, ini­ti­ate a shakeup among his Likud party and pos­si­bly send the coun­try to early elec­tions.

In light of re­cent de­vel­op­ments — most no­tably Mr. Ne­tanyahu’s for­mer chief of staff, Ari Harow, turn­ing state wit­ness in cor­rup­tion cases against the prime min­is­ter — Likud party mem­bers have ex­pressed sup­port for the prime min­is­ter and even an­nounced a rally for Mr. Ne­tanyahu to be held in the com­ing days.

Mr. Ne­tanyahu has ve­he­mently de­nied the charges against him, post­ing a state­ment on his pub­lic Face­book page con­demn­ing the al­le­ga­tions and say­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is doomed.

“There will be noth­ing, be­cause there was noth­ing,” the post read in He­brew.

If pub­lic pres­sure mounts, Mr. Ne­tanyahu could of­fer to step down amid the con­tro­versy, lead­ing to po­lit­i­cal jock­ey­ing in his own party for who would suc­ceed him as prime min­is­ter. Gi­lad Er­dan, the pub­lic se­cu­rity and in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter, is the sec­ond in the Likud hi­er­ar­chy.

An­other sce­nario is the govern­ment could move to­ward a vote of no con­fi­dence in Novem­ber, when law­mak­ers re­turn from an ex­tended sum­mer re­cess, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Gil Hoff­man wrote in The Jerusalem Post. That could set into mo­tion early elec­tions for 2018, a year ahead of sched­ule.

The fall of Mr. Ne­tanyahu would also pro­vide an open­ing for the lead­ers of main po­lit­i­cal ide­olo­gies fight­ing against the en­trenched es­tab­lish­ment and one an­other.

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